Since helping UCLA to three straight Final Fours, Darren Collison has embarked on what is turning into a bit of a journeyman’s career. He’s played for four teams in five seasons, and transitioned from being a starter in Indiana to a capable backup in Dallas and Los Angeles.
But even though he’ll be a free agent again this summer — opting out of $1.9 million — he insists he wants to stay in his hometown.
Collison talked a bit this week about his first season with the Clippers, the current state of UCLA basketball, as well as his basketball camp for middle schoolers starting June 23.
How did your first season with the Clippers go?
I think as far as the team, we expected to go deeper. We expected to win it all. That didn’t quite go well. It’s stuck with us even now. I think it’s going to be a motivating factor even now. we understood the road that we came from. we felt like we were right there.
My intention is to stick with the Clippers. They’re a good team. Good teams like San Antonio and Miami have stuck with the same core. I’d love to stay for three to four years, but there has to be a mutual agreement.
How does this summer of free agency for you compare to last year’s?
Last year, it was just putting myself in a position where I could find myself again as a player mentally. I’ve been through a lot. The previous season with Dallas, I still had a good season, but mentally I just felt like I needed to be a part of a team that was going to try to win it all. That was my intention. To try and be a part of a team that was going to win a championship.
This year, it’s pretty much the same thing. It’s just my value went up. I understand that. But I don’t want it to affect my decision with the Clippers. I want to be with the Clippers. Hopefully, the upper management can do something, figure something out, but I just think this is a good chance to be with a team for three or four years, try to something special. I think the organization deserves it. The fans deserve it. I’m looking forward to it.
What’s your favorite memory from this season?
Oh man. There’s a lot. I guess you could say the three, four comebacks we had as a team. Of course, everybody’s going to talk about Game 4 of the playoffs against OKC. Down 22. That was pretty exciting. It was on a big stage. Went down 3-1. We had an opportunity to tie the series and eventually try to win that series. That was probably the most memorable.
Donald Sterling’s still fighting the sale, but does it feel like the saga is winding down from your perspective?
Yeah. I think it’s good. It is winding down. It caused a distraction for us as players. And not just players, but fans. Fans, they just want to see basketball. I think a lot of times throughout the playoffs, we kept talking about the Sterling issue. It’s good that it’s dying down. We have a new owner in place. I’m excited. I’m excited for the Clippers and their future.
What do you know about Steve Ballmer? Have you gotten a chance to meet him yet?
I’ve seen a couple of interviews. I never got a chance to meet him in person yet. I am looking forward to meeting him. He seems pretty enthused in his interviews, pretty excited about where he wants to take this franchise. That’s all good stuff. I think the owner has to be enthusiastic about taking this organization to new heights. You think about where this organization has been, nobody ever, ever wanted to play for the Clippers. Now, everybody wants to play for the Clippers. The value of the franchise has so much potential. I think he’s enthusiastic about the challenge.
Were you surprised when you saw that the team sold for $2 billion?
That was pretty crazy. I didn’t believe it at first when somebody had told me. I think Adam Silver made a great comment in one of his interviews. He said the market, it is what it is. It made itself. I think it’s true. I think (Ballmer is) looking at where the Clippers are. We’re in L.A. We have great young talented players. Blake and Chris, they do a great job of being good role models for the city. They’re great stars for the team. I think we’re in a great location, a great place to be, and we have a chance to do something really, really special. Everybody’s been talking about the Lakers (in the past); now, you’re talking about the Lakers and the Clippers also.
How does it compare to how you thought of the Clippers growing up?
I didn’t. I remember I used to go to Clipper games just to watch the other team play. I think everybody considered themselves a Laker fan. I know I was. That’s what’s so crazy to me. I’ve seen the transition; where it was, and where it is now. I want to be a part of something like that. I want to be a part of the organization to win its first championship. I just think that just means a lot to me and anybody else that’s played for the organization for a long time.
How has playing in L.A. changed the attention you get? Has it helped your camp grow at Etiwanda High?
Playing for Dallas the previous year, people never got a chance to see me unless we were on national television. When I’m playing at home, a lot of my fans, friends, family — they got a chance to see me almost every single day. That means a lot. For kids that are coming out to the camp, I think we’ll have more because of that. It’s good to work with kids every offseason. You don’t want to focus attention just on yourself. You want to give your attention — what you’ve learned from that previous year — to these kids. These kids, they have a chance to be special, and you have a chance to give them your knowledge.
Every year, (the attendance has) increased. It went from the first year, 100, to the second year, 200. The last two years, it was a little bit over 300. I think this year should be around 100 more kids. The problem is the location. I like to do it at my alma mater high school, Etiwanda. I just hope it’s not too big for that. Whatever happens, we’ll make it work.
Do you plan to do anything different for the camp this year?
I think coming from the experience that we went through as players this year. The (Sterling) distraction was a distraction, but it’s something to talk about as far as telling someone about your experience and how to become a better person or how to become a man. Those are things kids can learn from.
Did this past season feel like one of the most pivotal in your career?
I don’t think so. It’s funny because, the previous seasons, I’ve had good seasons. I just wasn’t on a team where — we didn’t have much success. My first year with Indiana, even though we went to the playoffs for the first time in a long time, we still got knocked out 4-1 in the first playoff series. The second year, we did a little bit better. Last year (in Dallas), we didn’t make the playoffs. I think this year I had a lot more notoriety because I was on a big-market team.
What was it like playing for Doc Rivers?
I think my expectations were definitely exceeded. You’ve heard about him being a player’s coach and always being there for the players. He was that throughout the whole year. He had our back from the beginning of the season all the way throughout the playoffs. That means a lot to players, when you know a coach is there for you. I’m excited for our future. I can’t imagine any other coach to go through this with us.
What did you think of UCLA’s run to the Sweet Sixteen?
I thought they had a good run. I thought they had a really good run. A lot of people didn’t expect them to go as far as they did. Of course, they wanted to go further, but I think the players that are going to go the NBA right now are going to do well. I’m excited for them. They’re great young talents. Kyle Anderson, Zach LaVine — those guys, they have great, great futures in the NBA.
Did you get to visit the team this season?
I didn’t get a chance to. I normally stop by every summer, but this past year, I didn’t get a chance to.
Have you met Steve Alford yet?
You know what? I’ve met all the assistant coaches, but (not) him. I’m going to try and link up with him this summer hopefully. Just try and pick at his brain. He seems like a good guy. He seems like (he has) the personality to coach that team. Take the team where it needs to be. I’m excited for him and that whole program.
The Sweet Sixteen run was the deepest since you were on the team. Does that give you more fuel for college-rivalry trash talk in the locker room?
Oh man, they can’t try to trash talk our program. We have so many banners, championships, players that come out of the school. I don’t even trash talk. They just know.