CHARLOTTE – John Collins has a remarkable ability to go from mean mug to smile in a snap. It’s not so much that the second-year Hawks player out of Wake Forest has anything to be mad about, rather there’s an intensity to him he doesn’t quite realize he’s showing off at times. When the focus lifts, the grin spreads across his face, and he settles in and allows himself to relax.
Not that All-Star Weekend is built for relaxation. It’s past 4 p.m. the night of the Rising Stars game, which Collins is scheduled to participate in, and he’s hoping for two things: food and a nap. The nap will have to wait, as he’s still responsible for some pop-a-shot in the adidas suite and another stop or two on the media blitz. But an apple arrives, at least giving him something to snack on while he enviously looks at some Chick-Fil-A teammate Trae Young has acquired.
It’s a good time to be John Collins, hunger aside. He’s putting together a heck of a most improved player campaign in Year 2, his numbers since returning from an ankle sprain that forced him to miss the first 15 games of the season have been eye-popping. The Baby Hawks continue to improve under first-year coach Lloyd Pierce. And, of course, there are those dunks, which were on full display Friday night as a preview of the Slam Dunk Contest on All-Star Saturday night.
Turner analyst and Hawks executive Grant Hill likes what he sees out of Collins, heaping praise on the forward at a lunch near Charlotte’s Mint Museum on Friday.
“He’s gotta be in the conversation for most improved,” Hill says. “20 and 10. He averaged 10 points last year. We gotta start getting that word out there. With his play, and his energy, and his leadership, and the fact that he’s still 20-21 years old. He’s still got a lot of room to grow.”
That growth isn’t stopping anytime soon, and Collins’ playfulness and intensity will be on full display at the dunk contest, where he’ll have the chance to balance that intensity with sheer joy. He sat down with Dime for a few minutes to discuss his continued evolution, learning how to be a pro, and what he has in store for the people on All-Star Saturday night.