Los Angeles Lakers: Inland Empire

"The L.A. in my Game," with Darren Collison

July, 8, 2011
Kamenetzky By Andy Kamenetzky
As part of a continuing series, NBA players share the various ways growing up in L.A. shaped their games.

Darren Collison grew up in Rancho Cucamonga, a suburb of the Inland Empire, which is about 35-40 miles from Los Angeles. However, it might as well have been 140 miles, considering the difference between these worlds. Whether socioeconomically or in the quality of basketball, Collison witnessed firsthand the dichotomy while regularly commuting to inner-city games. Nonetheless, he stepped up his game to match the competition and helped elevate Etiwanda High School and the entire Inland Empire as a legitimate roundball force. Collison eventually hit the larger stage of UCLA and Los Angeles in general, but at heart, remains a kid from the I.E. When deciding the location for his first camp, he naturally chose Etiwanda, his "basketball birthplace."

Andy Kamenetzky: Where did you grow up playing?

Darren Collison: Actually, when I started playing basketball, it was in the inner-city L.A. My mom used to drive me down to the L.A. inner-city to play with some of the guys in travel ball. So that's when my game first started to grow. I don't know specifically [where we played]. But all around Los Angeles. From Hawthorne to Leuzinger [High School] to Inglewood. Little kid tournaments. That came to seem like the place where I started playing because the competition at Rancho wasn't as good.

I remember meeting the coach at Rancho. He had a travel ball team and he would always take his kids down to L.A. to play in tournaments every weekend. And I mean, every weekend from Friday to Sunday, playing like, three games a day. We'd go down there to L.A. and showcase our skills against other kids in the inner city.

AK: I guess that's when you realized Rancho is a different world than L.A.

DC: Yeah, it was a completely different world. You're playing with kids that didn't necessarily have things you had. All they had was basketball. They would do whatever it takes to be successful on the court. Some of them didn't have good grades. Some of them was just playing to stay out of trouble. But for the most part, that competition helped me as a basketball player to get better.

Chris Morrison/US Presswire
The "LA" in "UCLA" stands for Los Angeles, but Collison always reps the Inland Empire first.

AK: Did it take a while to adjust to those differences and become comfortable?

DC: I wouldn't say [I was] uncomfortable, because growing up playing and the reason my mom would take so much time for me to play down there, I knew how important it was. And it was fun. So it wasn't uncomfortable. It was fun playing down there. But it took a long time to adjust to the skill level. The guys from the inner-city were way better than the guys that weren't in the inner-city. I knew I had to work on my game to get better if I wanted to compete with guys like that.

AK: Was there an adjustment to physicality or anything?

DC: Part of it was physicality. The other part was just playing that hard. There's a difference between kids where everything is given to them and you don't really have to work hard and kids that have to work hard while they're young because nothing is given to them. When it comes to on the court, there's a big difference between that. I think a lot of those kids in the inner-city, they had a lot of family issues and the basketball was their way of getting away from all that. They had an extra motivation of playing hard and actually being better.

AK: Was there a specific moment when you realized you had to step up your game to compete?

DC: The thing about inner-city basketball, even when we were young kids, the gym would be packed like you were at the top high school games. There were tournaments and games where we'd play against inner-city teams. They'll score on these fancy moves and you got the crowd in the stands going crazy. We're like nine, 10 years old, little kids just trying to play the game. That's when I realized it's real up there. The competition is totally different. The atmosphere is totally different.

That's just how L.A. is. They enjoy watching basketball. No matter what the age is, they have respect for it. But I knew I had to get better at my game if I wanted to compete at that level and so to speak, not get dogged.

AK: On top of trying to make it in a place like Rancho, were there obstacles inherent with your size?

DC: The main obstacle was knowing the inner-city kids were the ones being looked at. Kids from my area, it wasn't known as a good basketball city. It just didn't have that recognition. They never had the opportunity, so once a couple of kids got put on the map as far as the Inland, more and more college coaches were going out there to do scouting. Now there's a lot [of players] from the Inland Empire. So I think that was the biggest obstacle right there.

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24.6 5.0 1.4 35.4
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AssistsK. Bryant 5.0
StealsK. Bryant 1.4
BlocksE. Davis 1.2