From the time he was named Utah’s Mr. Basketball in 2010, Kyle Collinsworth has felt he was an NBA player. But the NBA doesn’t feel the same way.
The Raptors 905 shooting guard cuts a self-assured demeanour. With tipoff on the 2018-19 season just minutes away, Collinsworth coolly goes through a defensive shuffle, then leaps for a two-handed swing on the rim before heading into the huddle for final preparations. The calm exterior matches what’s going on internally, pretty remarkable given his recent basketball past.
After winning WCC Player of the Year in 2016 at BYU, Collinsworth went undrafted. He was signed by the Mavericks in July, but was waived four days before the regular season.
“(After) I got cut by the Mavericks I spent the whole year in the D League. Then I was just kinda like – I need to change things up.”
Collinsworth is philosophical; his Instagram feed filled with motivational quotes like, “The biggest muscle of agency is decisiveness. Be decisive in all you do!” He’s also a reader of all genres, with a focus on happiness and positive thinking. With that in mind, he and some friends started a retreat business. “Retreat” implies luxury, but apparently Collinsworth’s definition is different. The program is called “Mountain Intensity”.
The day starts with a mile-long hike, straight up a mountain. Then it’s yoga, personalized workouts, meditation, and lectures from guest speakers in the evening. Collinsworth started the venture to combat the adversity he’s faced as a pro.
“Every morning we’d hike the face of the mountain and it was just the hardest thing ever,” Collinsworth says. “We just would never stop, no matter how hard it got you just kept going. Every day we’d try to beat our time. At the top we’d visualize. I’d visualize myself in the NBA. I credit that to me making it. Just being able to see it. Push through hard things. See it. Adversity – you gotta be willing to do different things and keep adjusting.”
14 months after getting cut by the Mavs, Collinsworth was called back up. On December 20, 2017, with 11:21 left in the second quarter, Head Coach Rick Carlisle called him to check in. Collinsworth vividly recalls the feeling.
“I just remember trying to unbutton my pants to get in the game quick, because it was kind of a quick sub,” Collinsworth says. “(It wasn’t overwhelming) at all. I got my first shot – stepped up and hit it. It was a good feeling to be out there.”
Collinsworth may not have been intimidated in that moment, but he does confess to looking across at certain players he was matched up with and thinking “wow. These guys are unbelievable.” Most surreal for him, though, was getting to play with one of the all time greats.
“Dirk Nowitzki was my favourite player growing up. That was my idol. It was unreal.”
And Collinsworth didn’t just get to practice with one of the greatest international players in NBA history. With Nowitzki’s days as a superstar behind him, Collinsworth got to play 173 minutes with him on the second unit.
“I remember one play where someone swung it to Dirk, and he swung it to me in the corner and I knocked down the three,” Collinsworth recalls with a grin. “It was surreal. Giving him an assist, passing the ball to me. I watched him my whole childhood. Pretty awesome.”
In 32 games with Dallas, Collinsworth averaged 3.2 points, 3.3 rebounds, while shooting 38.4% from the field in 15 minutes a game. Between those 32 games, the season proved another test of Collinsworth’s resolve. In a seven month span he was waived twice, signed two 10-day contracts, and got assigned to the G League. A few months later, he finds himself on the Raptors 905, playing under a parent club that isn’t exactly hurting for 6’6 wings. But it seems adversity is what drives the 27-year old, as he used the term no fewer than five times in a minute.
“Adversity. I’ve learned at a young age that adversity teaches us to think differently, do differently,” Collinsworth orates. “It gives us an opportunity to create a new rhythm, create a new opportunity. I tore my ACL in college. I’ve never let adversity bring me down. People always use the word ‘failure’ – failure is only when you quit. So adversity – I just keep adjusting, keep trying to get better, things I need to work on. Keep getting my strengths better and just keep fighting. Never give up.”
The parent Raptors may not have an immediate need at shooting guard, but Collinsworth should benefit from playing under a proven development culture. 905 Head Coach Jama Mahlalehla already has a gleaming scouting report on him.
“His poise. He’s seen it already. Nothing’s new to him. He’s been around, he’s seen all these different situations,” Mahlalela says before the 905’s thrilling one-point win over the Delaware Bluecoats on opening day. Collinsworth would put up 8 points on 4-for-11 shooting in 25 minutes, which included the game’s final stages where the team rallied from 10 points down to claim victory.
“The challenge for him is how does he break through – some technical things within his game that he can improve and start to show, but it’s also that constant leadership. We call him our glue guy. He does everything for us. He passes, rebounds, shoots, dribbles, does it all. And he does it all in the lockerroom too, which is really important for me as a head coach.”
Mahlalehla hopes Collinsworth can grow in terms of versatility. Collinsworth was inserted late in the game for his “switchability” – a virtual must for today’s NBA swingman. In the game’s critical final moments, Collinsworth was able to chase around cutters, and box out 7-footers for key defensive rebounds.
“When we put him in the game we are allowed to do a lot of things,” Mahlalehla says post-game. “I’m really happy with what he brings to us on defensive end. And his leadership is tremendous.”
Leadership and versatility – not the most tangible elements to work on in a development league. But Collinsworth’s approach to basketball goes well beyond the physical aspects of the game. Whatever direction his career takes, he’ll approach it with a purposeful mindset that has only steered him well through his basketball career.