Sometimes the NBA seems like a very, very small world. On NBA.com, Fran Blinebury tells how now-Sixers coach Doug Collins had a big influence on now-Rockets star James Harden -- even though when they met neither was in the NBA:
Collins was out of coaching back in those days, working as a TNT commentator, when he became a frequent visitor to the Sun Devils’ workouts and the burr under the saddle of a certain guard who had all the flashy trim of a fancy sports car, but might as well have been sitting it up on milk crates.
"[Collins] taught me a lot," Harden said. "He would mentor me. He would tell me that I had to have a motor. I had to build a motor up to be successful and have a chance to play in the NBA. My sophomore year, the reason I came back [to college] was to learn and build my motor up. He was the reason for that.
"I was nonchalant, just chill. That’s how I still am, but I have a little motor in me now. That’s the difference. He saw me in my building stage, when I was preparing for the NBA. So for him to have great compliments about me, it means a lot to me."
Collins says the next critical step in Harden’s development was going to Oklahoma City and falling in with just the right trio of gym rats in Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and Jeff Green, who never tired of getting to practice early and staying late, who wouldn’t accept anyone into their circle that wouldn’t play with the same fervor. Harden worked tirelessly to improve his conditioning and he built up his strength to the point where he might be as unstoppable an offensive force as any player in the league.
"I don’t [usually] compare players by any stretch of the imagination," Collins said. "But when he’s coming down the floor with the ball, he is very similar to LeBron James. When you combine size, strength, speed -- and he loves contact. He seeks contact on every play."