'Nothing is given': Michigan assistants open up on Frankie Collins' departure

James Hawkins
The Detroit News

After the Michigan men’s basketball season ended, it seemed like a path to increased playing time was paved for Frankie Collins.

With the starting backcourt of Eli Brooks and DeVante’ Jones moving on, Collins figured to be in line to take over at point guard his sophomore season. But that all changed when Collins entered the transfer portal and departed for Arizona State in an eyebrow-raising move.

Collins’ decision to leave the program came one day after the Wolverines received a commitment from grad transfer Jaelin Llewellyn, a combo guard from Princeton. According to assistant coaches Phil Martelli and Saddi Washington, that timing isn’t a coincidence.

Guard Frankie Collins (10) transferred from Michigan to Arizona State after his freshman season.

“Nothing in this program is given to anybody,” Martelli said recently on WTKA’s “The Michigan Insider.” “When the season ends and they (players) had their individual conversations with coach (Juwan Howard), I'm sure there was discussion about moving forward. At the same time, when you look at our team, you say, ‘OK, how can we keep growing this?’

“When a guy like Hunter (Dickinson) says he's coming back, he's coming back for one reason: The pursuit of championships. So, you keep looking and say, ‘Where can we change how this team fits together?’ So, when the opportunity arises — and there were other guys along the way whose names pop up because there are no longer secrets. But, I do think that people wonder. His family would ask a question. Full transparency in this program, they got answers. As it moved forward with the young guy Jaelin coming, it was, OK, there's going to be a hard conversation.”

Martelli noted he and Washington weren’t involved in that conversation between Howard and Collins, which ultimately led to him becoming the third Wolverine to enter the portal this year, along with guard Zeb Jackson and forward Brandon Johns Jr., who both landed at VCU.

As Martelli pointed out, one of the team’s flaws last season was its outside shooting, which led to a crowded court and not enough spacing around Dickinson. With Dickinson returning for his junior year and Brooks, the team’s top 3-pointer shooter, gone, the Wolverines looked to add much-needed shooting to their backcourt.

That’s an area where Llewellyn could help and an area where Collins struggled. Llewellyn shot 38.6% from deep (64-for-166) last season while Collins shot 16.7% (3-for-18).

Llewellyn’s addition also followed Howard’s trend to dip into the portal and bring in a veteran guard. He did the same last offseason with Jones, another grad transfer who won the starting job and limited Collins to a backup role.

Martelli said he doesn’t fault Collins, a former top-50 recruit, for heading elsewhere. While programs are always looking for ways to improve their rosters, players have every right to pursue whatever opportunity they feel is best for themselves.

“Everybody wants to play at the next level, but that's not guaranteed to anybody,” Martelli said. “He wants to have a great college experience. So, straight up, eye-to-eye, what gives you the best chance to have a wonderful college experience? It’s not me saying everything is all right; you've got 35 minutes. We're not accountants; we're coaches.

“And it truly is for competitors only. Not that he ran from competition, but going and finding something that gives you the great college experience that will impact 30 years from now, that's what we hope for.”

One day after Collins announced his commitment to Arizona State — which happened four days after he entered the portal — the Michigan basketball program’s Twitter account wished him “nothing but success moving forward.”

“We're delighted for him,” Martelli said. “There's no closing the door and throwing darts. Nope. This isn't for everybody, nor is everybody for us. That's the way I would put it.”

Washington echoed Martelli and said he didn’t think Collins was running from competition. But with Llewellyn, an All-Ivy League first-team selection who officially signed with the program on Friday, and incoming freshman Dug McDaniel entering the fold, Washington was reminded of a situation former point guard Zavier Simpson faced as a sophomore.

Heading into the 2017-18 season, Simpson was viewed as the starter. That changed when former coach John Beilein brought in Jaaron Simmons, a grad transfer guard. Still, Simpson won the starting job heading into that season and lost it for a 12-game stretch to Brooks, who was a freshman at the time, before regaining the lead role on a Michigan team that reached the national title game. 

“I would argue that we're all at our best when we feel a little heat to our back, some fire to our feet. That doesn't have to be a bad thing,” Washington said. “Now, to say that would happen in this scenario? I don't know. But we've seen it before; we've been through it before. At this level, this is the highest level of college basketball. If you think you could be a pro, you're going to face competition every day of your life moving forward, as long as you play this game. Whether it's here or whether it's at the next destination that you go.

“I always say we want what they want. At the end of the day, if you want to be at Michigan, we're going to do our job, do our best to put you in position to be in position. If you don't feel like this is the place for you any longer and you gotta go somewhere else, man, we love you.”

Of course, there are two sides to every story. Junior-to-be forward Terrance Williams II expressed his frustration in a since-deleted tweet after Collins entered the transfer portal, lamenting “politics” in today’s game.

“It was hard when he left,” Williams said on Michigan’s “Defend the Block” podcast. “I was pretty mad. I feel like he was a big part of this team, upcoming team. But he’s going to do what’s best for him, and I support his decision through whatever he does because that’s my brother for life.”

A couple days after he committed to the Sun Devils, Collins acknowledged on social media that plenty were curious about his reasons for transferring.

But Collins tweeted that he didn’t need to explain his decision because “it’s behind me” and he already found a new landing spot. He also wished the Michigan program nothing but the best as he and the Wolverines go their separate ways.

“Thus far, at least in my experience here, it has worked out for everybody who stayed and everybody who has gone,” Washington said. “He's going to do great. I have no doubt that young man is going to have a great collegiate career. But Michigan is going to be all right, too.”

Brooks invited

Brooks will be one of the 44 draft-eligible prospects who will participate in the NBA G League Elite Camp next week at Wintrust Arena in Chicago.

The G League camp, which released its list of attendees on Monday, gives players an opportunity to improve their draft stock by participating in five-on-five scrimmages, as well as strength-and-agility drills in front of NBA and G League scouts, coaches and front-office personnel.

Brooks is one of three Big Ten players slated to participate in the two-day, pre-draft showcase, along with Michigan State’s Gabe Brown and Northwestern’s Pete Nance.

Top performers at the camp can earn an invitation to stick around for the NBA Draft Combine, which will run May 18-22 in Chicago.


Twitter: @jamesbhawkins