Basically Dazzling Kansas' Nick Collison and Kirk Hinrich play the game the right way. And, make no mistake, it's fun to watch

November 25, 2002

Last summer, during the same week the U.S. was flopping at the
world championships, ESPN2 began airing a sort of how-to guide
for future international failures. Streetball: The And1 Mix
Tape Tour breathlessly tracked a troupe of barnstorming
playgrounders with names like Sik Wit It, Skip to My Lou and Hot
Sauce as they gave "clinics" in one-armed-handstand dribbling,
off-the-backboard passing and relentless taunting to crowds of
whooping youngsters across the nation. From their dorm rooms,
Kansas seniors Nick Collison and Kirk Hinrich could only stare
slack-jawed at their TV screens, wondering why Streetball wasn't
carrying the same warning as Jackass: The Movie. ("Neither you
nor your dumb buddies should attempt anything from this.")

"I know it's entertainment," says Collison, "but a lot of kids
now, that's what they think good basketball is." Or, as Hinrich
puts it, "You have to start with the fundamentals, and they're
teaching kids how to bounce the ball off another guy's head."

Just because the two Jayhawks are the most fundamentally polished
duo in the land, though, doesn't mean they should be treated like
some sort of archaeological find. Not when they lit the fuse on
the nation's highest-scoring offense last year. And certainly not
when the 6'9", 260-pound Collison bangs and light-foots his way
to effortless inside baskets, or when the 6'3", 190-pound Hinrich
cannonballs downcourt as if his hair were on fire. Old school? It
may be the slogan of this year's Jayhawks ad campaign, but
Hinrich groans at the term. "I'm not some Bob Cousy patting the
ball like it's hot or something," he protests. Fair enough. So
let's compromise and call them the new old school, an explosive
version of the well-rounded classic, C&H pure cane sugar
sprinkled on the basics.

Rare is the team that fields even one such player these days,
much less two. "Nick and Kirk fill so many roles for us," says
Kansas coach Roy Williams. "Nick's as complete a post player as
I've ever had, and Kirk's as complete a guard as I've ever had."
Rarer still is the eerily telepathic bond on the court between
the two seniors whose spell-check-suggested surnames--Collision
and Hornet--match their playing styles.

"If [Ohio high schooler] LeBron James goes Number 1 in the draft,
I could make an argument for Hinrich as Number 2," says one NBA
player personnel director. "He has the size, the speed and the
fundamentals, and he won't be intimidated by anyone. And Collison
is such an exceptional finisher, he could be a 10year starter in
this league."

How did this Perfect Storm whip into Lawrence? For the answer,
it's best to journey a few hours north, into the fertile river
valley of western Iowa.

To find the cosmic link, the source of Collison and Hinrich's
anti-Streetball ethic, visit the back room of a Hy-Vee grocery
store in Sioux City, where 66-year-old Ray Nacke joins his pals
most mornings for their regular coffee klatch. In the 1970s, at
the start of his 26-year coaching career at nearby Briar Cliff
College, Nacke drilled the basics into a fiery guard named Jim
Hinrich and, later, a John Deere--sturdy 6'6" forward named Dave
Collison. Only a sage would have predicted that someday Collison
(at Iowa Falls High) and Hinrich (at Sioux City West High) would
coach their sons, Nick and Kirk, to Iowa state championships. Or
that those sons would join forces and lead their AAU team to the
national under-19 title game, then share the state's Mr.
Basketball award, then jointly spurn the Iowa schools for
Kansas--where now, as teammates and formerroommates, they
bestride the colossus of the Big 12, the nation's preeminent
hoops conference.

It all goes back, through the cobwebs of time, to one man at one
tiny NAIA college. "Both Jim and Dave were hard workers when they
played for me," says Nacke, whom Collison and Hinrich peres
credit with teaching them the game's bedrock principles. "And
Nick and Kirk are mirrors of their dads. There's no nonsense with
either one of 'em."

From age three Jim Hinrich's boy was unspooling textbook shots
into the hoop his dad had installed in the living room. "Even
when he started, we had him working on his form," says Jim, who
swears Kirk's first word as a baby was ball. Cradling his
mini-Rawlings, mini-Kirk would face the wall, bend his knees,
cock his wrist and follow through, over and over again. When Jim
was out of the house, Kirk's mother, Nancy, fired thousands of
passes to her son, who took to arching rainmakers over the
Christmas tree.

Like Kirk, Nick Collison faithfully attended his dad's high
school practices for years as a grade-schooler, serving as the
water boy while absorbing the minutiae of the game. Dave Collison
recalls how, as a fifth-grader, his son could ape the moves of
the high school players, noting their strong suits and calling
out their deficiencies. Already he was a details guy. "One of the
best things I could learn from my dad was how not to be," Nick
says. "I'd hear him complaining at home about kids who were
selfish, who didn't play hard or who never played any defense. So
I was like, man, I'm never going to be like that when I play."

As the progeny of four teachers--one of whom, Judy Collison,
taught her son in a sixth-grade sex-ed class--the boys didn't
escape their mothers' influence, either. "The importance of
preparation is something you pick up in a house full of
teachers," Dave Collison points out. Accountability, too: After
Kirk Hinrich's high school team lost three of its first four
games in his senior year, he sentenced himself to hours of jump
shots after a five-hour overnight trip from Waterloo. (As if to
prove it wasn't his own Waterloo, Hinrich then led Sioux City
West to its first state title.) Likewise, Collison was pumping
iron at 7 a.m. the day after his first loss in an organized game,
at the state tournament in his sophomore year. He scored just
three points and fouled out of that game, and each day thereafter
he'd remind himself of the feeling by tapping the offending stat
sheet he had tacked up on his bedroom wall. It worked: Over his
last two years Iowa Falls went 52-0.

Iowa hoopheads can only ponder the possibilities. What if Iowa
State coach Tim Floyd hadn't left for the Bulls and Iowa's Tom
Davis hadn't been a lame duck the same year, just as C&H were
finalizing their college plans? "We would've been pretty good,
wouldn't we?" Floyd says, his voice betraying a hint of
wistfulness at the thought of coaching Hinrich (who orally
committed to Floyd after his sophomore year) and Collison (who
was considering both Ames and Iowa City). "Normally, big guys are
your projects, but in Nick's case you knew when he was a senior
in high school that he'd be a terrific college player. Since Kirk
was physically underdeveloped, he was the guy we were projecting
on." In fact, Floyd says, he was merely hoping Hinrich might
become as useful as departing Cyclones guard Jacy Holloway.

Instead, Williams spirited away Iowa's finest to Lawrence, just
as he'd done five years earlier with Raef LaFrentz. By season's
end Williams was starting three freshmen--Collison, Hinrich and
Drew Gooden--for the first time in his career. "When Kirk and I
got to Kansas, you could tell we had played together," says
Collison, who had logged more than 60 games with Hinrich over two
summers on the Iowa Martin Brothers AAU team. "If he passed into
the post, I knew when and where he was going to cut." Living
together wasn't so harmonious. "Nick was a slob," Hinrich cracks.
"He'd eat a sandwich and just leave part of it on the couch. I'd
say, 'I'm not gonna clean up after him,' so it would sit there
for a week."

Despite a pickup game smack-down or two, the friendship between
Collison (whom teammates have dubbed Big Sloppy) and Hinrich
(whom opposing fans taunt for his resemblance to Harry Potter)
has never gone stale, though the two players found their own
living arrangements last year. "They're really different," their
coach says. "Kirk is much more serious. He'll still laugh, but
he's so possessed at times that it's hard for him to enjoy what
he's doing. Nick is driven, but not to the extent that he can't
see the big picture and enjoy life a little more." Yet while
Collison is undeniably eclectic--his gigantic DVD stash ranges
from Menace II Society to Zoolander to When Harry Met
Sally--Hinrich isn't nearly as quiet as he'd have you think. When
the Antlers, Missouri's hard-core pranksters, began calling
Hinrich's cellphone last summer, he played along, trading barbs
for the better part of two days. (Only then did he get his number
switched.)

Naturally, C&H listen far more intently to Williams, who
convinced his stars early on of the need to build on their
fundamental base. For Hinrich that meant almost never playing
five-on-five in the summer, not in camps, leagues or pickup.
"Every spring I sit down with my players and discuss what they
need to improve during the off-season," Williams says, "and Kirk
has bought into that more than any other player I've ever
coached." Asked to hone his outside shot, Hinrich toiled alone in
Sioux City for two months, then set a Big 12 record for
three-point percentage in his sophomore year. The next summer he
focused on weight training, then used his added strength as a
junior to lock down taller small forwards such as Missouri's
Kareem Rush.

For his part, Collison has progressed by competing against older
players, starting in middle school (when he would spend evenings
at the Ellsworth Community College gym) and continuing through
five summers as a member of seven USA Basketball teams,
culminating in his selection as the only college player on last
summer's world championships squad. Oklahoma's Kelvin Sampson, an
assistant coach for that team, has suggested that the U.S.
perhaps would have been better off had Collison (an alternate who
wasn't on the active roster) actually played in Indianapolis.

Rest assured, unlike some NBA players, Collison will never turn
down a call from his country. Credit his late grandfather, Arden,
an Army tail gunner whose plane was shot down during World War
II. The only survivor, Arden rushed into the fiery wreckage in an
attempt to save his crew, only to suffer nearly fatal burns.
"Basically, he lost his face," Nick says. "Whenever I feel like
basketball is too hard, I think about some of the stuff he went
through for his country." When Arden died last fall, a paper that
Nick had written about his grandfather's life was read at the
funeral. In addition to keeping the flag from the casket and the
shells from his grandfather's 10-gun salute, Nick still writes ac
on his shoes to honor the man who commanded that he never, ever
showboat on the court.

Not that he doesn't have reason. With Gooden's departure to the
pros, both Collison (15.6 points and 8.3 boards per game last
season) and Hinrich (14.8 points and 5.0 assists) figure to spike
their averages upward. The one stat they'd like to see go down is
fouls. Defying their thinking-man reps, Collison and Hinrich are
more fond of the DQ than Mark Cuban, having fouled out a combined
30 times over the past three years. (Collison leads, 16-14.)
"Nick commits silly fouls," says Jayhawks assistant Joe Holladay,
"while Kirk's are usually mad fouls." They'll need to stay on the
court this season, because Kansas has almost no depth beyond what
may be the nation's most feared starting five (with three
sophomores, point guard Aaron Miles, swingman Keith Langford and
power forward Wayne Simien).

Both Collison and Hinrich realize that unfinished business
remains after last year's Final Four loss to Maryland. For now,
though, about the only other showdown that would get them as
hyped up as the one on Jan. 25 in Lawrence (when the Jayhawks
host Arizona) would be Sioux City West '99 versus Iowa Falls '99,
state 4A champ versus state 2A champ, Kirk and Jim Hinrich versus
Nick and Dave Collison. "We both know it would have been a tough
game," Collison says of the grudge match that Iowa's class system
prevented from ever taking place. Then his voice turns to a
whisper. "But I think we would've won," he says, his grin as sly
as a Times Square watch-hawker's. "Too many fundamentals."

COLOR PHOTO: photograph by peter gregoire TWO OF A KIND Hinrich (left) and Collison both won Iowa state high school championships under their fathers' tutelage. COLOR PHOTO: JOHN BIEVER FATHER KNOWS BEST Kirk's textbook technique dates back to the childhood lessons that he learned from his dad, Jim. COLOR PHOTO: COURTESY OF THE HINRICH FAMILY (INSET) [See caption above] COLOR PHOTO: ROBERT BECK CRASH COURSE The physical Collison started out as a water boy for his father, Dave, and soaked up a wealth of basketball knowledge. COLOR PHOTO: COURTESY OF THE COLLISON FAMILY (INSET) [See caption above]

"Nick and Kirk are mirrors of their dads," Nacke says. "There's
no nonsense with either one of 'em."

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)