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Prep Star Tries to Shed His Past

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The NBA has picked up another potential draft pick, this one a troubled high school player who may not have had another attractive option.

DeAngelo Collins, a controversial 6-foot-10 post player at Inglewood High with a guard’s quickness and shooting range, declared his availability for the June draft and announced he had hired an agent Wednesday during a news conference at the school.

Collins is projected to go late in the first round of the draft, but the team that takes him will be taking a chance not only that the McDonald’s All-American can make the jump as a 19-year-old, but also that he can be a good citizen.

A little more than three years ago, as a freshman at Tustin High, Collins inflicted permanent head injuries and a fractured nose that required surgery when he beat up a teammate. Collins pleaded guilty to felony assault and served six months in juvenile hall. He was also assessed a civil fine of $35,000, a sum that remains uncollected.

At age 13, he assaulted a woman with a deadly weapon in his Stockton hometown and served 60 days in a juvenile detention center, court records show.

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At 15, following an altercation with a group of boys, Collins moved to Southern California. Shuffling between guardians for a span of more than two years, he moved between several homes in Los Angeles, Orange and Riverside counties.

While attending Tustin, Collins committed 27 documented transgressions in a seven-month span, earning a series of detentions and suspensions. One of his caretakers, youth basketball coach Bob Gottlieb, said Collins exhibited a “vicious” temper, prompting his expulsion from the house.

Shortly after assaulting his Tustin teammate, Collins dropped out of school and moved in with an aunt in Inglewood. His mother, Loretta Marie Taylor, a truck driver and single parent, also relocated there from Northern California.

Collins enrolled at Inglewood High, where those close to him say he has reinvented himself over the last three years while playing basketball in the shadow of the Great Western Forum.

“He’s made a miraculous change to the person he is today,” Inglewood Coach Patrick Roy said.

Said Taylor: “He’s responsible, he’s caring. You had to know him to see the changes today. He’s come a long way.”

Not everyone is convinced. Paul Pinto, the assault victim’s father, said Collins remains a menace, no matter what his coaches and family say.

“DeAngelo Collins is a sick kid,” Pinto said. “He has a violent temper and because he gets away with what he does, there’s no accountability.”

Roy said he demands accountability. He also acknowledges there have been slip-ups--he said his star player has missed classes and occasionally exhibits a surly attitude.

But that, he said, is the extent of it.

“In three years, I’ve never had a major problem out of him,” Roy said. “I think the worst thing I had to counsel him on was being late to class. Fights and anything like that--he’s never exemplified any of that behavior with me.”

Those close to Collins say the biggest influence in his turnaround has been Roy, who has a reputation as an even-handed but firm leader of a program he has been associated with since playing guard there in the early 1980s.

“I think Pat Roy has been a stabilizing figure for him as a coach and a father figure,” said Dinos Trigonis, a travel ball coach who has known Collins since he moved to Southern California in 1997.

Collins said Roy kept on him every day, telling him to “go to class. Make sure you do this. Go to the library.”

Roy said Collins’ turnaround lost some momentum when he left school during his sophomore year to serve his assault sentence.

“When he came back,” Roy said, “it was almost like starting over again because he was bitter.”

Now, though, Roy said Collins’ transformation is most visible on the court.

“As a 10th grader he would just go for himself. As a senior, he would try to get his teammates going even if he was having a bad game. That’s the dramatic change I’ve seen in him over the years.”

Taylor also credited Inglewood teachers and administrators.

“They disciplined him from the start,” she said. "[It’s as if they said], ‘When you attend this school, it’s going to be this way, and this way only. You’re here to learn, we’re here to teach.

“‘If you’re not here to learn, there’s the door.’”

Collins’ best performance on the court came last season when he averaged 23 points, 15 rebounds and four blocks. But he missed 12 games after suffering a knee injury midway through the season.

Nonetheless, Roy said Collins is the second-best player he has coached in 10 years at Inglewood, behind Paul Pierce, the Boston Celtics’ all-star guard.

By retaining an agent, Collins decided not to take advantage of the NCAA’s recent ruling that allows undrafted players--and drafted players who later decide they don’t want to enter the NBA--to maintain college eligibility.

“To go to the NBA, you have to have confidence,” Collins said. “Not having an agent wouldn’t show confidence.”

Collins’ agent is Michael T. Harrison of Santa Monica-based Immortal Sports & Entertainment, whose only NBA client is Portland Trail Blazer rookie Zach Randolph, a seldom-used forward who averaged 2.8 points this season.

It’s unclear whether college was even an option for Collins, who tested at a third-grade reading level in the eighth grade.

Roy said Collins was on track to graduate with his class but had not received his SAT scores after taking the test recently for the first time.

Some think Collins would have been better served by spending a year or two in college.

“In a perfect world, DeAngelo should go to college.... Would it help him on and off the court? Yes,” said Sonny Vaccaro, the Adidas consultant who has tracked Collins’ progress since last summer, when he was selected MVP of the shoe company’s prestigious high school all-star game.

Now that Collins has declared for the draft, NBA teams will begin the process of fully investigating his background.

What will he tell league personnel when they ask about his freshman year?

“They’ll know when they ask me,” Collins said. “I’m not going to sit here and say what my answer will be because I don’t do it like that. When we talk, I’ll tell them the whole story about what happened.”

But he wouldn’t tell that story Wednesday.

“I don’t want to get on that right now because I feel like that’s bringing up negativity,” he said. “I feel like this is a positive day for me. I just want to leave it at that.”

Roy said he’s already broached Collins’ past in conversations with officials from more than a dozen NBA teams.

He knows the issue is a concern, especially considering the money teams invest in first-round picks.

“Will they hold his past against him?” Roy asked, repeating a question. “Some will and some won’t. But those who have done their homework, been to practice and understand who he is and how he represents himself, it definitely won’t matter to them.”

Said Trigonis: “He’s made a big stride this year maturity-wise.... I think he’s aware he has an opportunity now, and he better not mess up.”

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

Early Entrants

Since Kevin Garnett’s successful transition from the high school ranks to the NBA, the nation’s top high school basketball players have considered skipping college in increasing numbers, with varying results among those who made the jump. The 19 players who have applied for the draft out of high school, and how they have fared:

IMMEDIATE FIT

* Kevin Garnett (1995, No. 5, Minnesota)

* Kobe Bryant (1996, No. 13, Charlotte, traded to Lakers)

* Darius Miles (2000, No. 3, Clippers)

The role model for the new generation of young hopefuls, Garnett took to the pro game right away and continues to improve, averaging 18.9 points per game in his seven-year career, twice being named to the All-NBA first team. Bryant didn’t become a starter until his third season, but was averaging more than 15 points a game by his second season. Miles, with plenty of room for development, has still been an impact player in each of his first two seasons.

WELL DEVELOPED

* Jermaine O’Neal (1996, No. 17, Portland)

* Tracy McGrady (1997, No. 9, Toronto)

* Rashard Lewis (1998, No. 32, Seattle)

After four years of development on Portland’s time, O’Neal has become a star in Indiana, where he was named the NBA’s most improved player this season. McGrady struggled as a rookie and didn’t blossom until his third season with the Raptors; now he’s a first-team all-NBA performer with Orlando. Lewis had a forgettable rookie year, but by his third season he was one of the SuperSonics’ standouts.

STILL DEVELOPING

* Al Harrington (1998, No. 25, Indiana)

* Jonathan Bender (1999, No. 5, Toronto, traded to Indiana)

The Pacers have tried to bring their young front line along slowly, with mixed results. Harrington was having a breakout season with a 13.1-point average before an injury ended his season after 44 games. Statistically, Bender was at the same point this season that Harrington was in his third year.

CLASS OF 2001

* Kwame Brown (2001, No. 1, Washington)

* Tyson Chandler (2001, No. 2, Clippers, traded to Chicago)

* Eddy Curry (2001, No. 4, Chicago)

* DeSagana Diop (2001, No. 8, Cleveland)

* Ousmane Cisse (2001, No. 47, Denver)

Chandler and Curry, the Bulls’ latest building blocks, got a boost in playing time after a coaching change midway through the season and finished with an average of 13 points a game between them. Brown, despite the opportunity to play with Michael Jordan, averaged only 4.5 points. Diop got only limited playing time. Cisse failed his physical in Denver, is now a free agent and has yet to play a game in the league.

PROBLEM CASES

* Leon Smith (1999, No. 29, San Antonio, traded to Dallas)

* DeShawn Stevenson (2000, No. 23, Utah)

Smith had discipline problems with Dallas and run-ins with the law in his hometown of Chicago, before attempting to commit suicide by swallowing more than 200 aspirin. He worked out his personal problems and his strong season in the CBA earned him another shot at the NBA late this season, with Atlanta. Stevenson has continued to develop on court despite having to deal with a misdemeanor charge of statutory rape that resulted in probation.

WASHOUTS

* Taj McDavid (1996, not drafted)

* Ellis Richardson (1998, not drafted)

* Korleone Young (1998, No. 40, Detroit)

* Tony Key (2001, not drafted)

The highly touted Young proved a major disappointment, missing almost all of his rookie season with back problems before ending up in the minor leagues.


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