Player Efficiency Rating—or PER—is a stat defined as "the overall rating of a player's per-minute statistical production." Essentially, PER aims to boil down all of a player's on-court contributions into a single number.
No player in college basketball last season had a higher PER than John Collins. Not Lonzo Ball. Not Markelle Fultz. No one. So why have such players become household names while Collins remains relatively anonymous? For one, he never had much of a stage—his Wake Forest team finished 10th in the ACC and lost in one of the "First Four" games during March Madness. Second, his dominant season seemingly came out of nowhere. Last October, CBSSports.com released a list of the top 101 college basketball players for the 2016-2017 season. Collins wasn't on it. But after an incredible sophomore campaign during which he averaged 19.2 points, 9.8 rebounds and 1.6 blocks per game, Collins is now being projected as a potential lottery pick in the 2017 NBA Draft.
It's one of the most remarkable rises in recent memory, but Collins is far from content. He's working tirelessly to tailor his body and his game to the NBA style so that he can make an immediate impact. For example, after attempting just one 3-pointer in his entire college career, the 6-foot-10, 225-pound Collins is now working to make the shot a seamless part of his game. We caught up with the big man at Proactive Sports Performance in Westlake Village, California to find out more about how he became an elite player and his plans for NBA dominance.
What's your biggest focus training-wise as you prepare for the NBA?
My biggest focus is probably my lower body and trying to get that stronger. I think I'm pretty solid upper-body wise, but people say getting my legs stronger will definitely help me out in the NBA. Everybody is strong as an ox—especially at my position, the 4 and 5—in the NBA. They're super strong. So definitely my legs so that I can have greater balance and use my body the way I need to.
On the court, what's been your biggest focus as you prepare for the NBA?
I think expanding my game away from the rim. (There are) a lot of questions on (what) I can do with the ball—shooting wise, dribbling wise. I think just being able to shoot the 3-ball, dribble if need be, make plays on the perimeter, guard different guys—just being versatile. The biggest thing I try to work on in terms of getting better at my game is working away from the rim. I think I've proved myself closer to the rim, so that's what I'm working on right now.
You've been getting after it here at Proactive, but has training always been a big thing for you?
As I got older, as my body started maturing, I started to see myself getting better and that's when I started to put effort into the training. When I was younger, I didn't really put much effort into it because I didn't really think I could be as good but as I started to get older I saw, "OK, I'm actually pretty good." Then I started to turn the level up, started to really get going. The training just (got) more intense and more intense.
You're now working out with a lot of guys currently in the NBA or who know the NBA game. What's been the biggest transition for you?
I think the biggest transition for me is probably the speed. Getting to your spot as quick as possible, quick feet, quick movements, nothing's slow. I think just overall the speed of the game is different. A lot of guys talk about it and I definitely feel it. By the way I'm training, I can definitely see it's something that's going to be an important factor.
How different is your nutrition now than it was when you were growing up?
I was a pretty bad eater. It's definitely gotten better for me as I've gotten older. I've started to feel the difference and see the difference of eating healthy and eating right. But when I was younger, I used to eat whatever. I didn't really care. I wasn't really thinking and I didn't have the mindset I do now. I just did whatever. But now I take into consideration the fruits, vegetables, protein, carbs, calorie counts—all that stuff. I've gotten better. I like fried potatoes—french fries, any potato that's fried. But fried carbs are terrible for you and that's one of the big things I've tried to cut out. Now I try to eat better carbs than those fried carbs I used to take down. Also that doughnut or ice cream type of stuff, I've tried to cut it out.
What's an average meal look like for you nowadays?
Lunch, it's usually a nice natural carb like sweet potatoes and some grilled protein—chicken, fish, one of those. Then I always have vegetables with every meal. I got to have something green. I'm a big broccoli guy, asparagus, spinach—all those types of things. That's usually my typical meal—grilled protein, good carbs and vegetables. Then a lot of water. I'm a big water guy. I don't drink anything but water really.
You're here training for the NBA with some guys you played against in the ACC. What's that been like?
It's definitely good to see that nice contrast between competing on the court and competing off the court. We're trying to get to the same place when it comes to getting to the next level. It was cool playing against Luke Kennard (Duke), Amile Jefferson (Duke) and Donovan Mitchell (Louisville). There's a lot of respect, we're ultimate competitors. I respect all those guys in their own right. It's definitely been fun to compete against them and then now work alongside them. It's been a fun transition with those guys. I definitely mess with Donovan a little bit because we beat Louisville. I can't say too much to the Duke guys, but they can't say too much to me. I lit 'em up with a 31-point game and a 21-point game, but I can't say anything because they got the wins. The ACC is definitely the best competition in America, no question.
Going back, how'd you first discover basketball?
I'm from a military home. I grew up all over the place. My mom was in the Air Force, my Dad was in the Navy. So I had a chance to live in (places like) Guam and Turkey. A lot of my family from the U.S. lived in the U.S. Virgin Islands, spent a year there with my grandmother. We lived in Tacoma, Washington for 8 or 9 years. Now, my family's all in Florida or the Virgin Islands. At Cardinal Newman High School (West Palm Beach, Florida), that's where I really started taking basketball seriously. I hit my growth spurt, started to lose weight so I really started to feel my athleticism and my game changing. That's part of the reason why I felt like I could go to the next level and be successful—my time and my transformation during those four years at Cardinal Newman.
Was there a moment at Cardinal Newman where you realized basketball could truly change your life?
It was probably my senior year. I forget which team we were playing, but I had 26 points—all dunks—and like 15 rebounds. There was a guy in the crowd chanting, "He can't do anything else but dunk! Make him do something else but dunk!" My goal that whole was to dunk everything. I was like, 'Man, I haven't done anything skill wise. I haven't shot the ball once. I think I can do this at the next level when I can make myself do one thing the whole game and they can't stop it.' That was definitely a turning point for me to be like, "Man, I think I can do this."
Speaking of dunks, was that an ability you had early on or was dunking something that slowly developed for you?
The first time I dunked a ball was my sophomore year. I only had like two dunks on the season. It kind of progressed my next year, my junior year—I remember having a dunk a game. Then my senior year, I dropped a lot of weight. I started getting into the weight room and I felt the jumping ability kick in. That's when I started just punching everything. I started using my agility and bounce to catch lobs all over the place. My senior year is really where it took off.
Not many human beings get to experience posterizing someone on a dunk. How does that feel?
When you get those poster dunks, it kind of takes like 10 or 15 seconds to actually realize what you did. The crowd goes crazy. Your adrenaline is pumping. Your mind is everywhere. It's something you dream about—those plays where you make a back cut or a nice drive and you poster somebody. It's an amazing feeling, man. It hypes up everybody, gets the team going and can definitely change the momentum of a game. I'm definitely looking to poster anyone I can.
How did growing up in a military family shape you as a person?
It's been my mom and myself for most of my life. So growing up in that military household with my mom, she was no nonsense, she didn't take anything. There was definitely that baseline of structure. To live that military lifestyle, it kind of gives certain rules and guidelines you have to follow at all times. It definitely gave me a nice structure to fall back on and I think it helped me through a lot of aspects in life. I think it was a plus for me to be a military kid.
Even though you've lived in a lot of different places, you claim Florida as home. Is there a pride in what you're doing for your city as you jump to the NBA?
Florida is home. It was there that I think I blossomed into the man I am today. I went to middle school and high school there and that was a big period in my life for me, a big turning point. I've spent a lot of time there and a lot of family is there. Even though we didn't live there for the majority of my life, Florida has always been home base for family events and that type of thing. Florida is definitely where the heart is for me. West Palm Beach is the city I claim and I'm going to rep it until I die. That's my city.
As you meet with NBA teams, what is one thing you want to make sure you really get across during these interviews?
My improvement. I think it's that I'm willing to improve and I'm consistently improving at all times. If you look at my freshman to sophomore year, (you'll see) the jump I made and the improvements I made. Then you can look at my weaknesses now, I want teams to know I'm going to keep getting better. I'm going to improve. It's something I do and it's something if you look back in my life, it's (what I do).