Shauqunna Collins never would have picked up a basketball if it were not for her father.
So when 65-year-old Baron Collins suffered a stroke in the final weeks of the regular season, Collins faced a tough decision: Stay put and keep practicing with a Fresno State team working on an eighth-straight trip to the NCAA postseason or go home and see him, maybe before it was too late.
The Bulldogs’ starting point guard asked coach Jaime White if the team should come first. Soon after, Collins was on a plane to Saginaw, Mich.
“I said no because it’s not more important,” White said. “The game will always be the game and your parents, your family, your loved ones, they only live once.
“You only get parents once.”
Collins arrived home to an unexpected greeting.
“He gave me that look like, ‘What are you doing here?’ ” she said.
He was happy to see her, of course — as was the entire Collins family, with Shauqunna one of eight children — but a little surprised because he raised her to be dedicated, first to work in the classroom and then to her sport.
Baron Collins always preached that education was No. 1. Basketball, and everything else, then came second.
“My dad was very hard on us,” said Collins, now back with a Bulldogs team that opens its run in the Women’s National Invitation Tournament on Thursday against visiting San Francisco. “He would always give us that time to go out and play, but as soon as we got home from school it was books first. Even if it was just reading, he made sure everything was completed and done the right way. He didn’t let us slip or let us slide.”
After graduating from Arthur Hill High, Collins played one year at Jackson Community College in Michigan and another at Garden City Community College in Kansas.
She stayed the course, earning Women’s Athlete of the Year honors at Garden City and becoming the first in her family to graduate from a junior college.
Collins is on track for another milestone at Fresno State, where in a little more than a year she will be the first in her family to earn a bachelor’s degree.
“I just know everything he’s been through to get me to this point, all the sacrifices him and my mom made to get me to this level, I need to make it worthwhile. To give them kind of a thank you,” Collins said.
“I think bringing a ring home, or saying we’re tournament champs or anything of that sort will be a thank you for what they did for me.”
After returning from her family visit, Collins’ focus has been at an all-time high, something assistant Laura Dinkins has noticed.
In a loss to New Mexico in a Mountain West Conference Tournament semifinal, which cut short a bid for an eighth straight NCAA Tournament berth, she had nine points, seven rebounds, three assists and two turnovers. Collins is averaging 7.9 points and 2.1 assists per game overall.
“Having all those other outside influences going on sometimes it can distract and take away from your game on the court,” Dinkins said. “Q has not let it distract anything. I would say it’s done the opposite. She’s used that adversity to grow and become a better person and, I think, a better basketball player.”