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Nick Collison lays out path to success

2/20/2012

Nick Collison, former Kansas All-American and current reserve for the Oklahoma City Thunder, penned one of the best articles I’ve ever read regarding basketball identity. Collison, who makes $3.2 million a year, once made $6.5 million in a season. In his article for GQ Magazine, Collison lays out what it means to create value for yourself as a player. Coaches can preach it until they lose their voices but when a millionaire NBA player reveals the truth, it’s time to listen.

Collison broke down how to stay in the NBA and create value for yourself in a winning franchise. I think his points can be introduced and celebrated on the grassroots level.

Granted, Collison’s at a place in his life where he’s at a different level than most high school, college and NBA players. Regardless, his thoughts on the game and success ring true. Players can either choose to figure it out now or wind up realizing they missed the boat when it’s too late.

“Players who help their teams win are the ones who stick around.”

There’s a reason why Derek Fisher has five rings. There’s also a reason why Danny Green won a title at North Carolina and is in the NBA. Austin Thornton for Michigan State is another great example.

At the high school level, Phil Forte (Flower Mound, Texas/Marcus) isn’t on the same level as Marcus Smart (Flower Mound, Texas/Marcus) but he’s found his niche and you can best believe he’s going to do the same at Oklahoma State. Ever heard of a Darion Clark (Conyers, Ga./Oak Hill)? He’s the guy who does the dirty work for Oak Hill, the lifting that coach Steve Smith’s four ESPNU 100 players don’t do. Collison said it best. If NBA guys don’t do the little things, “the new crop of young players who enter the league every year will replace them.”

There's a reason why you flip on your TV set and see "some scrub" playing in front of an elite recruit. Look, the coach isn't stupid. He's playing the guy who best contributes to the bottom line: wins and losses. A lot of times if the higher rated guy doesn't play it's because he hasn't figured out how to beat out the upperclassman who's read Collison's article or he simply won't put aside his ego and commit to the team.

“You create value for yourself by doing enough positive things to make your coach keep you on the floor.”

Collison says teams typically have three guys who do the bulk of the scoring. The other guys have to play off them and figure out where to create for themselves. It’s not that cut and dry in college but the principles are the same at all levels. Ninety-nine percent (there are some who hold weird grudges) will play the guys who will help them win the most. Carving out an identity and displaying the coachability and willingness to do whatever it takes is a skill. Develop it.

“Be secure enough not to listen to your friends and family who say you should be getting more playing time than the guy playing ahead of you.”

See, it’s not just high school where your people are in your ear. Those who care about you – sometimes to your detriment – will always be in your ear. Unfortunately, those same people aren’t always objective (often because they love you or want to remain in your circle) and don’t see the big picture. The insecure player will listen to them and even allow them to affect his play, much of the time at the expense of the team and his own game. The secure player will listen and smile but realize those people don’t walk in his shoes. In my opinion, the guys with the ability to filter this type of noise wind up maximizing their abilities.

Collison goes on to offer advice in all forms. “Learn to chuckle when writers or people on Twitter make snarky comments about what a stiff you are,” he says. You know, he’s right. Often times all of us are guilty for taking ourselves too seriously or not having thick enough skin. To his point, the secure player knows who he is and doesn’t let outside influences affect his focus. To develop that type of persona is to ask a lot of a high school player, but we’re talking about focusing on being great in your role over time, not good for one day. Good habits have to begin somewhere.

Collison will make $3.2 million dollars this season and that’s a lot of cabbage. His job is to help Kevin Durant be better, which will keep OKC in the winner’s circle. Not everyone makes it as far but Collison started out much like the younger players reading this blog. He cut his teeth playing high school ball, AAU, college and then on into the pros. The difference between Collison and the next guy is that he’s figured out how stay in the league, while others are singularly focused on merely getting there.

As for sacrificing his own numbers, Collison says that’s part of his job. “You realize you aren’t sacrificing anything. You are just figuring out a different way to play.”

Whether you play high school or professional ball, the way you see the game, your role and your role within your team is the ultimate decider of how successful you can be. It’s called maxing out your abilities and that doesn’t always mean scoring the most points. It means finding your role – be it star or sub – and becoming a superstar in your role.