Coming off an ACC Tournament championship winning season, the Virginia Tech Hokies will look to reload the roster with a talented recruiting class heading into the 2022-23 season. Currently, Virginia Tech is ranked 29th nationally and 8th in the ACC in terms of the 2022 high school class rankings. This is certainly a rebound from last year’s class which mainly featured Sean Pedulla and was ranked 13rd in the ACC.
The 2nd highest recruit in the Hokies 2022 recruiting class is MJ Collins. He’s a 6’4 185 pound combo guard from Rock Hill, South Carolina. Collins attended Westminster Catawba Christian School up until his final high school year.
After his junior season at Westminster, Collins transferred to the Combine Academy in Charlotte, North Carolina. There he played his senior season with fellow incoming Hokie 2022 signee Patrick Wessler. The pair were teammates at the Combine Academy and led them to a 25-5 record in the 2021-22 season. Similar to Wessler, Collins is a three-star prospect who’s ranked right at the 200 spot in the entire high school class. 24/7 Sports views him as the 29th best combo guard in the class and the 2nd best player from the state of South Carolina.
Let’s take a look at Collins' game and see how he can make an impact on Virginia Tech in the future.
Everything Collins does on the court centers around his bursty athleticism. Collins loves to walk on clouds with a fantastic aerial bounce and natural explosion off two feet. This next level leaping leads to electric highlight plays as we can see in these clips. Collins is able to throw down putback dunks when he has a runway to take off on. He’s also an alley-oop candidate in transition which will help Virginia Tech push the pace when he’s on the floor.
Yes, there are plenty of 6’4 guards who can dunk when given this much space, but not many do it as effortlessly as Collins does. The effortless nature of his bounce gives him a lot of upside and serves as the foundation for other parts of Collins’ skill set.
Off-The-Dribble Shot Creation
Attacking the basket is a cornerstone of MJ Collins' scoring game. He uses a tight handle with slippery changes of direction to get to the basket and finish. Collins looks like a slash-first guard with the ball in his hands, but he can pull up from long range too.
In the first clip, Collins starts out in a triple threat position from the wing. He gives one mini jab but then fully accelerates towards the baseline. I love how he gets low to the ground so he can just slip by his defender by the time he reaches the hoop. Collins is remarkably able to gather off being low to the ground and lift off two feet and finish easily with a bit of late contact.
Here, he’s attacking a close out from his left side by pump faking and taking it to the hole. Collins uses a small swipe to ensure the initial defender gets off his hip. Once met by a help rotation, Collins breaks him down with an in and out shimmy which freezes the defender and allows him to complete his drive. Once at the rim, Collins still has to finish with two defenders in the area. He goes up with no fear, and slightly turns his hands and body to avoid a block from behind and finish the layup off the glass.
Collins receives the pass in semi transition to create his own shot. He takes advantage of his defenders backwards momentum by shifting into a left to right cross over. When his defender's hips have crossed to the other direction, Collins knows he will have the space to shoot it. He then stops on a dime to create the space and uses a pull back dribble with the ball to rise into the off-the-dribble three.
Whether it’s off pure isolation touches or off attacking closeouts, MJ Collins has a knack for getting buckets in the mid-range.
Similar to a play shown before, Collins attacks a defender who’s closing out to his potential shot in the corner. He gets the defender to bite so badly that he does a full flying sidekick like he’s in Karate Kid. After the pump fake, he’s able to see the space to drive but also recognize the paint is too clogged up to take it all the way. Collins comfortably settles for a smooth right handed floater that rips right through the net.
Here, Collins is in an isolation against a bigger defender so opting for craftiness to set up a jumper is a better idea than a straight line drive into traffic. He jabs to the baseline and drives towards the lane only to stop like he’s going into a tough shot. Only it’s not a shot, it’s a shot fake and step through move that shakes his defender out of the play. Collins keeps the pivot foot down and is able to maintain enough balance for a clean looking runner.
This one technically shows Collins driving in on a close out but he waits for enough time for it to really become a one-on-one isolation. This one is my personal favorite for a few reasons. Collins masterfully synergizes his right footed jab step with a right to left crossover. This gets his defender off the balls of his feet and onto his heels. Once the defender manages to recover, Collins dribbles into a push crossover which creates the lane to drive into.
After turning his man around, he does a good job of shielding off any swipes at the ball by keeping it on the side of his body that’s away from the hoop. After loading up for the shot, Collins is able to adjust in mid-air with a hanging extension floater over two defenders. I love how Collins easily adjusts to the help defenders' contest by giving a bit of a double clutch before releasing the shot nearly as he’s exceeded the apex of his jump.
While the base of Collins' game centers around what he does with the ball in his hands; he can also hit his catch-and-shoot shots at a high rate. Collins' relocation and ability to hit spot up threes off movement separates him. He’s not a stationary shooter.
In the first clip, Collins moves off of the ball around a pin-In screen to the right corner. It’s an out of bounds play that is drawn up specifically for Collins to shoot it. He shows the ability to catch a pass that’s outside of his shooter's pocket. Even with the added difficulty, Collins still reels the ball into his shooting motion seamlessly and drills the corner three.
This play may seem very simple as the last one did, but the details that are there are important. Collins reads that his defender is positioning himself in the gap between ball and man. In this case, his defender is playing way closer to the ball so Collins counters this by slowly but surely relocating to the left wing for a better look. This sets up his shot quite well because it extends the distance Collins’ defender has to close the gap to contest his three. It also shows his natural off-ball instincts to relocate around the three-point arc.
These natural off-ball instincts show up when he cuts to the rim for easy scoring opportunities. In this clip from Overtime Elite, Collins makes a perfectly timed 45-cut to the basket. He reads the floor and senses that the dribble penetration will pull weak side defenders to the other end of the floor. So he times up a cut to the rim to maximize the team's chances of scoring on that possession. He has to catch that pass in college, but I like how he recovers and puts his explosion on display with a craft reverse finish.
Once again, we see Collins capitalize off a created advantage with a well-timed cut to the basket. His team has a 4-3 advantage since the opposing team traps the ball handler. Collins makes the cut along the baseline and finishes with authority at the rim. Leaving Collins with that much space to take off from is a bad idea.
Creating Off Designed Actions
The final piece to MJ Collins' game is how he reacts to how defenses play him off certain actions. In both clips, Collins comes off a screen and is in a position to create his own shot. The first time he drives to the hoop for one reason: the defense isn’t set up well to rotate and send help on a drive so Collins takes advantage of this. That’s a smooth looking euro-step on his way to a tough looking finish.
Next time, the defense is set up better with Collins' primary defender chasing him off the screen harder and there being a help defender waiting in the lane. Since the defense has countered from the last time, Collins opts to pull up right in his defender's face for a cold-blooded triple. The importance here lies more in the process than the end result. Collins does a great job of countering his attack to how the defense plays him off similar designed actions.