Kyle Collinsworth plopped down at BYU’s bench Feb. 7, greeted by a teammate’s sly smile and a question.
“Did you get it?” Chase Fischer asked, meaning history.
Collinsworth insists he had no idea, until Fischer replied with a game-show host’s enthusiasm that, indeed, Collinsworth tallied his fifth triple-double. No player has ever accomplished that in a season.
“I knew I had enough points and rebounds,” the BYU junior recalled. “But assists—no idea where I was at.”
Coach Dave Rose showered Collinsworth with a bucket of ice cubes after the win at Loyola Marymount. Jubilant teammates reveled in where the 6’6’’ point guard was at but also where he came from.
Heading into this season, Collinsworth was considered a question mark after tearing his ACL in last season's West Coast Conference championship game. But he’s been an exclamation point since being ready to go in mid-October.
A new diet, enhanced mental strength and a regimented tenacity like Rocky Balboa in Siberia have turned him into one of this college basketball season’s most uniquely successful players.
The feat hasn’t exactly brought attention on NBA draft boards, even though what he’s done is phenomenally rare—and he's passed some big names.
There have been nine other Division I triple-doubles this season, but no one else has two. Historically speaking, Collinsworth bypassed Michael Anderson (Drexel, 1986), Brian Shaw (UC Santa Barbara, 1988), Jason Kidd (Cal, 1994) and Stephane Lasme (UMass, 2007).
Collinsworth’s on-court brilliance is about a steady dose of points, rebounds and assists. His off-court progress has featured three key figures, too.
Along with BYU athletic trainer Bob Medina's expertise, there’s Park City, Utah-based surgeon Vernon Cooley and in-house mental strength coach Craig Manning. These three became integral parts of Collinsworth's success during his recovery
Manning is employed by BYU, but like Cooley, he often works with some of America’s most fearless daredevils—the U.S. ski team. He talks about “creating strong neural pathways” and “conditioning the subconscious”—big words for snuffing out negativity. Manning preaches that a clear mind leads to a quicker healing body.
Each day, Collinsworth texts Manning three things he did well and one topic to focus on the next day. Control the controllable.
It was tamed so well following ACL surgery, Collinsworth had no setbacks—a modern marvel when most hyper-competitive athletes impede their own progress at some point.
Medina half-jokes that Collinsworth is probably still eating ultra-green meals delivered by Mom. They’ve talked countless times about many NBA superstars Medina worked with. That emboldened Collinsworth, who could live by a disciplined playbook too.
“I’ve seen big-time, major surgeries with a lot of athletes,” said Medina, who spent 21 years in the NBA. “I’ve never seen a kid recover like him. Never. And I’m not taking any credit for that. Kyle’s just unbelievable. I didn’t see Kyle doing some of the things last year that he’s doing now. He looks even more explosive.”
Collinsworth viewed the injury through his own special kaleidoscope. He saw an opportunity, not a curse.
“My goal in the back of my mind was just to be ready to play the first game,” Collinsworth said. “Then we’d go from there.”
It couldn’t have been easy to shake some hard feelings. Collinsworth was playing some of his best basketball leading up to the injury.
He desperately wanted to play in the NCAA tournament again. He hasn’t been there since contributing as a freshman on BYU’s 2011 team that was fueled by Jimmer-mania. (He served a two-year Mormon mission to a remote area of Russia, returning in time for last season.)
The torment of serious knee surgery freshened family scars, too. Collinsworth’s older brother, Chris, had his own promising BYU career ended by a variety of leg injuries a few years earlier.
Collinsworth nonetheless confided to various Cougars that he'd come back an improved player.
Astonishingly, he played a total of 30 minutes in the first two regular-season games and then bypassed that number in the third.
Then, he went from go-kart speed to Indy 500: 21 points, seven rebounds and six assists in a double-overtime loss to San Diego State in the Maui Invitational.
Cooley was an odd mix of dismayed and proud when he heard Collinsworth played 45 minutes in his third outing. That wasn’t exactly on the prescription note.
“But in the coach’s defense, he and their staff looked for any sign that Kyle was wearing down,” Cooley said. “Kyle just felt great out there. Who was anyone to tell him ‘no’ at that point?”
Opposing defenses have had a tough time commanding “no,” too.
|Kyle Collinsworth's triple-double kingdom|
|vs. Hawaii, Dec. 6||19||12||10|
|vs. Gonzaga, Dec. 27||13||10||10|
|@ San Francisco, Jan. 3||12||12||10|
|@ Pacific, Jan. 15||17||11||11|
|@ Loyola Marymount, Feb. 7||23||12||10|
His first four triple-doubles came between Dec. 6 and Jan. 15 before setting the NCAA record Feb. 7 at Loyola Marymount with 23 points, 12 rebounds and 10 assists. He came up one assist short of another in a Valentine’s Day blowout of Pacific, when Rose pulled him with less than a minute left, fearful of ongoing chippy play.
BYU hadn’t even produced a triple-double since 1988. Collinsworth is always on the verge. Besides the five triple-doubles, he's had seven other double-doubles.
It helps having insatiable jump-shooter Tyler Haws, the country’s No. 3 scorer (22.4). Collinsworth also is a gifted slasher and 15 percentage points more accurate on free throws—improved because before he could run, he could still take countless repetitions from the foul line.
Rose’s teams are always among the fastest-paced in the country, leaving plenty of possessions for points and assists.
But his greatest value is rebounding, especially as BYU has dealt with a slew of injuries (10 different starting lineups) and some meager depth inside.
Collinsworth seems to follow the mantra of Charles Barkley: “Just go get the damn ball.” Rose is more tactful, pinpointing his player’s edge as unusually keen timing and anticipation. Assistant Tim LaComb compares it to a star receiver high-pointing a pass.
Collinsworth’s clear-minded tenacity transferred from rehab, and he’s not afraid to tangle in traffic.
Still, BYU must be careful with its stat sheet thoroughbred.
He played 42 minutes of an overtime win against San Francisco in the West Coast Conference tournament semifinals (18 points, 12 rebounds), surely salvaging the Cougars’ shaky NCAA at-large bid last March.
Dealing with a badly bruised knee, the heroic effort came with a price tag: His right knee buckled the next night.
It marked the beginning of a lot of physical reconstruction and countless mind-transforming text messages to Manning, who proudly recalls Collinsworth making his phone buzz the morning of the historic LMU game.
He has taken an athlete’s most dreaded three-letter injury and turned it into a steady stream of double digits.
“As soon as I saw his text, I just thought, ‘he’s in a good mental place right now,’” Manning said.
Jason Franchuk covered BYU basketball for the Provo (Utah) Daily Herald for 11 years, including all of "Jimmer Mania," and now resides in Albany, New York. All quotes were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.