Kyle Collinsworth isn't moping around drowning in self-misery.
Even if he has a good case for clinical depression.
When Collinsworth dropped to the floor of the Orleans Arena during BYU’s WCC tournament final with Gonzaga last Tuesday, it was a sad and dramatic end to his remarkable performance in Las Vegas and his productive sophomore year.
He’d just thrown down a leaping alley oop dunk off a pass from Matt Carlino, and he was on his way to what appeared to be another double–double.
That all ended within seconds when the knee he’d injured at St Mary’s 28 days before had finally had enough. He will have ACL knee surgery on Tuesday.
After writhing in pain on the Orleans Arena floor, he hobbled off the court to meet with his parents and Dr. Kirt Kimball in the locker room. Before he came out to the bench with ice on his knees, his older brother Chris counseled him, “This will turn into something positive, I promise. Take what’s here and turn it into something good.”
Chris should know. After an injury-plagued BYU career, the 6-8 forward had to quit basketball. This came after he was attacked and stabbed while serving as an LDS missionary in Australia. He knows tough times.
“Chris has paved the trail for Kyle his whole life, through the good or bad, figured out the hard stuff, and Kyle’s been able to come along and conquer things,” said their mother, Alisa Collinsworth.
Ironically, when Kyle has his ACL repaired Tuesday, Chris will also undergo surgery at the same hospital to repair fractures in the opposite knee that sidelined his BYU career. It will be a family surgery day.
Whatever NCAA tournament Selection Sunday deals BYU, the Cougars will do the rest of March without Collinsworth. The tragic thing is, Collinsworth was enjoying the best week of his career. In Las Vegas, though nursing a sore knee, he was averaging 18 points, 11.2 rebounds and 55 percent shooting.
After he first injured his knee at St. Mary's, Coillinsworth worked tirelessly to rehab himselft so he could play and he did so through pain. He told his family he could run fast and jump high, "so I should be out there playing."
And play he did, helping BYU to finish 10-2 in its last 12.
Those who know him say the talented athlete has a remarkable ability to lock into the task at hand, no matter what the challenge. And that is his modus operandi now that he is injured.
“I talked to Kyle the other day and he had a great attitude. He was positive, not discouraged,” said his high school coach, Craig Drury.
The morning after BYU announced Collinsworth would have surgery to repair his knee and end his season, Alisa called her son to see if he needed a ride on campus or anything.
“No, I’m fine,” he said.
“What are doing,” she asked.
“I’m working out, lifting weights.”
“Yeah,” he answered, “I’m going to have the best upper body you’ve ever seen.”
After the workout, he planned to meet with his academic adviser and schedule online summer classes so he could get a jump on school work now to free him for rehabilitation before fall semester.
That, in a nutshell, is Kyle Collinsworth. He’s always about the task at hand, the next thing. He is a goal-oriented, driven personality who refuses to be distracted.
When called to serve an LDS mission to Russia after his freshman year at BYU, he walked away from a starting point guard job that was his for the taking when Jimmer Fredette left for the NBA. He told family and friends if he was going to leave basketball, he was going to do everything he could in Russia to further his faith — doing it halfway wasn’t an option, or he might as well stay and play ball.
Russia is a very tough assignment. It's not the mission field for whiners and complainers. The people struggle to trust people; the government is full of corruption, alcoholism is rampant as families struggle.
Months into his mission, Collinsworth noticed the difficulty and the challenge. Missionaries struggled to learn the language and few knew it well enough to be able to express themselves from their heart, so Russian people could fully understand their commitment, faith and message.
Determined not to waste his time and efforts, Collinsworth decided to get up an hour and a half earlier every day and work on learning Russian. It was something he’d mostly do by himself, adding 90 minutes to what was usually a long and tough day proselyting. In time, he was involved in teaching and baptizing a family with five boys — unheard of in his mission. He had conquered the language, according to his mission president upon his release to return home.
Collinsworth is a private person and shies away from the limelight. His mother says he hates drawing attention to himself. But he’s also a good soldier, which during his career has highlighted his attention to detail as a role player.
A former Utah Mr. Basketball, Collinsworth’s first year at BYU was spent as a rebounder and defender as Fredette, Brandon Davies and Noah Hartsock were featured scorers. Sometimes he’d get yelled at for not guarding Fredette’s man in addition to his own.
In his sophomore year, Collinsworth’s role has been to rebound, create assists, run the offense, defend and score from the wing when featured scorer Tyler Haws is double- and triple-teamed.
But at times the past few weeks, he’s been needed to score, and he has delivered. Eleven games ago, he scored 20, 18 and 19 points in three games. His last games, he put up scores of 23, 18 and 13 before his injury with 13½ minutes left in the Gonzaga game.
“I’m so proud of him,” said Drury. “He has great drive and determination, and I’m proud of a BYU team that rose up in his absence and cut a 21-point Gonzaga lead to eight. That says a lot about his teammates and what they think of him.”
It is Drury’s experience as one of Utah’s veteran high school coaches that a team can rally for a game or two when a player goes out. BYU did when Fredette and Company lost Davies, another Drury player.
A year ago, Collinsworth was in Russia wearing a white shirt and tie. That he manufactured a solid sophomore year is a credit to his physical abilities, said Drury. “He did it the right way and you have to give credit to Tyler Haws for how he came off his mission. Kyle followed the Tyler model for postseason preparation.”
Drury also credits BYU’s medical staff for quickly icing Collinsworth’s knee, which hastened Tuesday’s surgery instead of delaying the procedure for another week to 10 days for swelling to go down.
“He’s had a great year. He went through a little slump in the preseason and then got back on the horse and has had dominating games the last 10 games,” said the Provo coach.
“When Anson Winder began coming in, Kyle immediately got him involved. It wasn’t always with assists but more like hockey assists. He’s a great teammate. I’d love to play with him, and I’m sure his teammates love playing with him.”
But all that ended prematurely in March in Las Vegas.
“It was just one of those freak things,” said Drury.
“One of those things that happen.”
Now Kyle knows what Chris knows.
Dick Harmon, Deseret News sports columnist, can be found on Twitter as Harmonwrites and can be contacted at [email protected].