NORTH ANDOVER – Years of pain, one surgery, cortisone shots, physical therapy, rehab, a couple back braces and many, many tears later, Derek Collins finally had his night.
Oh, he got some help, plenty of it, from his North Andover High teammates, but as the final buzzer sounded here at Crozier Fieldhouse in the Knights’ 58-52 shocker over No. 1 Central Catholic, it was Collins who commanded your respect and the highest praise.
“The shot he hit to end the third changed the momentum of the game,” said classmate Isaiah Nelsen of the 60-foot banker by Collins at the buzzer. “From that moment on, the fourth quarter belonged to us. It was ours the whole way.”
If the prayer from Route 125 changed the momentum, the fourth quarter – owned by the Knights 25-9 – simply disrupted the entire Merrimack Valley Conference season.
And it all started with Collins, the cocky youngster turned sage senior, who probably shouldn’t even be here, at least in uniform.
“We had our share of differences back years ago,” beamed Knights coach Mike McVeigh. “But look at him now.”
Look at him now.
We all know Collins’ saga by now, a hoop phenom in the youth ranks, whose career was sucker-punched by a series of back issues.
So much of that is behind him … of course, the pain still lingers … but a night like last night proves how far Collins has come from that afternoon in the doctor’s office back in November 2011.
“That was definitely the lowest of low points, being told that we were at the last resort and it was surgery,” said Collins.
If only that surgeon could have seen Collins at work last night, helping will the Knights to victory.
For two-plus quarters, nothing had gone right. Overzealous officials popped Collins for two touch fouls in 88 seconds, sending him to the bench early.