Born: October 26, 1980 (Orange City, IA)
Graduated: Iowa Falls (IA) H.S., 1999 / University of Kansas, 2003
For many it takes a village to be successful. Nick Collison, a former Kansas Jayhawk and retired NBA star for the Oklahoma City Thunder credits his success to the people who helped him get there.
Collison’s basketball days began early growing up in Iowa. He said that those days as a kid were what “brought out some toughness in me.” That toughness would lead to Collison earning the McDonald’s All-American selection in high school and would prepare him for his next step at the University of Kansas.
Collison was coached by Roy Williams at KU and Collison credits with helping him “develop habits” that would prepare him for the NBA. Collison helped lead the Jayhawks to back-to-back NCAA Final Four appearances in 2002 and 2003.
During his time at KU, Collison was a four-year varsity letter winner, was a consensus All-American selection in 2003, two-time Big 12 Conference selection, 2003 National Association of Basketball Coaches National Player of the Year, and the 2003 Big 12 Male Athlete of the year. He ended his career at KU as the Big 12 Conference career leader in scoring and rebounds. His jersey was retired after his senior season in 2003.
Collison was drafted twelfth overall in the first round of the 2003 NBA Draft by the Seattle SuperSonics. He admits that when he was drafted by the Sonics, he didn’t know anything about them.
After a couple of days of practicing with his new team, Collison dislocated his shoulder and was out for the remainder of his rookie season. While he was worried that his career would be over Frank Furtado, a trainer for the team, assured him that he would be just fine. “He promised me I would be able to come back from this and have a career,” Collison said.
When year two rolled around, Collison was ready to hit the court. While the season wasn’t easy, Collison found his place among the pros playing in all 82 games.
During his time with the Sonics, he saw the team not only rebrand, but move entirely as the Seattle team relocated to Oklahoma City and became the Thunder. While it was daunting at first, the team made the playoffs in their second season in Oklahoma City, made the Western Conference finals in the third season, and then made the NBA Finals in the team’s fourth season. That steady improvement was a hallmark of teams Collison played on throughout his career.
Collison played the rest of his career with the Thunder and earned a spot as one of the best players for the organization. During his professional career he averaged 5.9 points per game, 5.2 rebounds per game, appeared in 910 professional games. Fans knew him as “Mr. Thunder” and his jersey was the organization’s first to be retired by the Thunder in 2019.
Collison admits without the support of his family he wouldn’t have been able to do it. He has had the support of his parents, siblings, extended family and mainly his daughter Emma.
“I'm really blessed, man,” Collison said. “I hope I can somehow express how much I appreciate all the people in my life who have contributed to this. I've had an incredible run. I'm proud of my career.”
His induction to the Kansas Sports Hall of Fame today shows that our state is pretty proud of him too.
By Molly Hackett