Cardinal Virtues The frontline play of odd-couple twins Jarron and Jason Collins has opponents seeing double and Stanford flying unexpectedly high

February 21, 2000

Call it what you wish--wanton austerity, artistic minimalism or
prison-cell chic--but the dorm room of Stanford forward Jarron
Collins may be the barest, most orderly dwelling in any college,
let alone college basketball. Collins's bed? Made with military
precision. His clothes? Folded as neatly as origami. His carpet?
He actually vacuums. Most unnerving of all are Collins's
pristine, poster-free walls, which resemble a polar whiteout.
"My dad says my room looks like a toilet bowl," he says,
removing an invisible piece of lint from his bed. "The only
thing that really decorates this place are the screen savers on
my computer."

Now walk one floor below and enter--if you dare--the lair of
Cardinal center Jason Collins, Jarron's twin brother. The bed is
Omaha Beach, postinvasion; the floor, a mishmash of dirty
laundry, books and comedy videos. Posters of Bruce Lee, Biggie
Smalls and the Williams sisters scream from the walls, and the
magnet on the minifridge says it all: I [LOVE] JERRY (Springer,
of course). "It's all organized," Jason argues fruitlessly. "I
know where everything is."

"He would always use that excuse growing up," Jarron bellows,
shaking his head. "I know where everything is. So pick it up!"

Jarron and Jason. Felix and Oscar. Wombmates but never, ever
again roommates. Yet, as the second-ranked Cardinal has happily
discovered, the two make an awfully sweet Collins mix. Through
Sunday, Stanford was 21-1 and sitting with Arizona atop the
Pac-10, due in good measure to this oddest of odd couples. The
twins are so individually unique that though they look almost
exactly alike, they have entirely different appearances (Jason
wears the high hair, sideburns and earrings; Jarron is more
clean-cut), academic tastes (Jason majors in economics; Jarron in
urban studies), class years (Jarron is a junior; Jason, because
of injuries, is a redshirt freshman) and even playing styles.
Whereas 6'10", 248-pound Jarron is a cerebral high-post flasher
capable of moving out to the wing, 6'11", 255-pound Jason is a
one-man heavy industry, bulldozing mercilessly though the lane.
"Jarron understands the game better than anyone I've ever played
with, and Jason's so tough," says Stanford senior forward Mark
Madsen, himself a bruiser of the highest order. "The other day
Jason and I were doing a one-on-one post-up drill for 10 minutes,
and I've never been so beat up in my life. I wanted out."

On the nation's most balanced team, Jarron has been the
Cardinal's most consistent inside scoring threat, averaging 11.5
points and 6.4 rebounds through Sunday, while Jason was adding
8.8 points and 6.4 boards and shooting a team-high 65.3%. The
twins have had an equally profound impact on the defensive end.
Their bumping and grinding with opposing pivotmen has helped
Stanford hold opponents to a nation-low 33.8 field goal
percentage, a mark that would surpass Marquette's 35.8 in 1993-94
as the lowest percentage since the NCAA started keeping the stat
in 1977-78.

After the Cardinal harassed Oregon into shooting 36.1% in a 76-61
Stanford win last Thursday, coach Mike Montgomery explained the
secret to his team's success: "We're big enough that we can
defend the post without having our perimeter guys help out, and
that keeps our opponents' wing players from getting better shots.
It's a nice luxury to have."

The twins' role in the defense is simple, at least in theory. "We
try to take what the opposing player likes to do and make him do
it farther out," says Jason. "So if he likes to catch it at five
feet, we'll push him out to nine."

"And get him to take a shot he doesn't want to take," adds
Jarron. "When you face good players, you're not going to stop
them from getting their 15 points, but you want to make them
shoot a low percentage and feel they have to work for all their
baskets."

Although the Collinses might know everything about each other's
game--they've been playing together since age six--only recently
have they rediscovered common ground on the court. In 1997 they
arrived at Stanford as the most highly touted recruits in school
history after having led the Harvard-Westlake School in North
Hollywood to two straight California Division III (small schools)
titles. Yet while Jarron has produced from the start, playing a
role in the Cardinal's 1998 Final Four run, Jason suffered
season-ending injuries two years in a row. He went down with
cartilage damage in his left knee at the start of his first
season and dislocated his right wrist during the seventh game
last year.

As a reminder of his struggles, Jason still carries in his
backpack the five pins that held his wrist in place. During his
two redshirt seasons, some days were harder than others. Last
year teammate David Moseley got so tired of Jason's sideline
critiques during a mistake-ridden practice that he turned and
angrily called him "a big bust." So when Stanford opened the
1999-2000 season by beating Duke and Iowa at the Coaches vs.
Cancer Classic, the biggest surprise wasn't Jarron's winning MVP
honors, but Jason's career-high 18 points and 12 rebounds in the
title game while filling in for the injured Madsen. At a time
when most observers thought Madsen's 11-game absence from the
starting lineup with a strained right hamstring would sink the
Cardinal, Jason helped spearhead Stanford's 12-0 start. Bust?
Bust that. "I almost made him cry last year," Moseley says,
chuckling, "but when he got the chance to play, he proved me
wrong."

Of course, the Collinses have been surprising people since Day
One. On Dec. 2, 1978, their mother, Portia, gave birth to
seven-pound, one-ounce Jason and thought her work was done for
the day. "Uh, there's another baby in there," a nurse informed
her. Stunned, papa Paul suddenly forgot all their Lamaze lessons
and dropped Portia's head like a two-ton anchor. "Hold on here, I
need you, buddy!" Portia screamed, and eight minutes later
seven-pound, four-ounce Jarron made his appearance. Fortunately
for her, Portia didn't go for the family's first double double
that day.

The Collins boys have never bothered to find out if they're
identical or fraternal twins--nor, in fact, do they care. They
have their share of eerie similarities, though. Ask Jarron a
question, and he'll often use the word we, even if he's only
talking about himself. During high school the twins tried all
sorts of ploys, from shooting each other's free throws during
games to switching places in each other's classes, and nobody was
stunned that when it came time to choose a college, they would go
only as a package deal. (So long, Kansas, which wanted only
Jarron.)

As Jarron says, "Our grandma told us there's strength in
numbers," and a visit to most Cardinal home games will reveal a
vocal chapter of the Collins clan, including the twins' parents,
an aunt, their maternal grandmother and even a 93-year-old
great-grandmother. The twins chose Stanford for intellectual
reasons too, which was plainly evident during one postgame radio
interview last year when Jarron was asked about the surroundings
at Washington State. "It reminds me," he said, "of the moors in
Wuthering Heights."

Still, anyone who's convinced the twins are as similar as the
umlaut points in Bronte isn't paying close enough attention.
"They're completely different guys," says Cardinal reserve Alex
Gelbard, a high school teammate. "Jarron's more glib and a bit of
a mama's boy, while Jason lives more on the wild side."

Those differences can be traced to their childhood, when their
parents made sure to spend as much time as possible with the
twins separately, the better for each to develop his own
personality. But if there was one event that changed them more
than any other, it was the tragedy that took place during their
freshman year of high school. At 4:31 a.m. on Jan. 17, 1994, they
were asleep in the family's house in a middle-class neighborhood
of the San Fernando Valley when the place started shaking.
Violently. Windows and dishes shattered. Furniture flipped over.
A few miles away an apartment complex collapsed, killing 16
people.

"Are you there? Are you there?" Jason remembers asking his
brother frantically in the darkness.

Says Jarron, "I couldn't move because I was so afraid."

By the time it was over, the Northridge earthquake would claim 57
lives--and very nearly 58. In those first terrifying moments a
sheet of glass covering Jason's bedside desk slid off. Its
razor-sharp corner crashed down onto the bed, tearing through the
pillow that lay inches from Jason's head. "If I had been sleeping
on the other side of the bed," he says, "I'd probably be dead."

The Collinses had to move out for four months while the house was
rebuilt, and never again would the twins share a bedroom. Each
boy finally had a chance to stake out his own turf. "When we got
separate rooms, I realized that I like to keep things plain,"
says Jarron. "I don't wear any jewelry. I'm not extravagant.
Everything has to be cleaned up and in its place." Jason, for his
part, could finally enjoy his pigpen, his posters, his Springer
in peace. "I liked the situation better," he says, "because I
didn't have Jarron going behind me and picking my stuff up all
the time."

Just as they've adjusted to each other's quirks, the twins had to
react to Madsen's return to the starting lineup last month, which
meant Jason was headed back to the bench. "We went about two
months where we didn't play with Mark, so we had to get used to
his tendencies again," says Jarron. Stanford's tentativeness was
evident during its 68-65 loss to Arizona on Jan. 8, in which
Madsen had only two points, but since then the Cardinal has
regrouped and run off nine straight wins.

To understand the Cardinal's ego-free ethos, consider that Madsen
and Jason met separately with Montgomery upon Madsen's return and
asked him to start the other player. "Well, darn," the Sahara-dry
Montgomery told them, "if nobody wants to start, then I'll just
go ahead and start [freshman reserve] Joe Kirchofer!"

Both Jason and Jarron are convinced that one of the biggest
reasons for Stanford's remarkable chemistry has been a course in
group communications that the team's leaders--the Collinses,
Madsen, Moseley and swingman Ryan Mendez--took last spring. "It's
a diversity class where you talk about everyone's viewpoints on
different issues: race, gender, class," Jason says. From Madsen,
a Mormon from the small, mostly white town of Danville, Calif.,
Jason learned to appreciate his teammate's infectious curiosity.
From Moseley, who was reared by a single parent in Las Cruces,
N.Mex., Jarron learned the term latchkey kid. "We always had day
care after school, so I had never even heard of it before," he
says. "I learned so much about my teammates. Just sharing our
experiences has made us a better team."

In fact the Cardinal appears better equipped for an NCAA
tournament run than it did last year with a senior-laden team.
Freshman sharpshooter Casey Jacobsen leads Stanford in scoring
with 13.8 points a game, Mendez and Moseley have shot a combined
44.3% from three-point range, and the inside trio of the
Collinses and Madsen has helped the Cardinal outrebound opponents
by 9.8 a game. "With last year's group there was a sense that
they had a certain level they could reach," Jarron says of the
1998-99 team, which made a disappointing second-round exit from
the NCAAs. "Right now there's no ceiling on what we could do with
our talent, as long as we keep working hard."

In the meantime, don't expect Jason and Jarron to cease their
comedic sniping. Every day after practice Jarron will get so
tired of waiting for Jason to shower and dress that he'll
unleash a rapid-fire, eardrum-piercing harangue that goes
something like this: LET'SGO!NOLET'SGONOW!C'MONHURRYUP!LET'SGO!
FINE!GETARIDEHOME!

It's all an act, of course. Press Jarron, and he'll call his
brother "a good listener." In a similar moment of weakness Jason
will describe Jarron as "a good friend." Indeed, he may not want
to admit it, but that I [LOVE] JERRY magnet on Jason's fridge?
It could just as easily read I [LOVE] JARRON.

COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY JOHN W. MCDONOUGH Feeling rejected Jason may be the sloppier brother off the court, but he made a clean block on this shot by Oregon's Frederick Jones. COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY JOHN W. MCDONOUGH Twin killing Jarron, a high-post flasher, soared over the Ducks' A.D. Smith (00) and Flo Hartenstein. COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY JOHN W. MCDONOUGH Splitting hairs The longer 'do is the clue that it's Jason on the left, but if he were to get clipped, there'd be no telling which twin is which.

Jarron and Jason may be like Felix and Oscar, but second-ranked
Stanford has learned they make a sweet Collins mix.

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)