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Daimion Collins remained patient, then took advantage of his opportunity

Collins had a breakout performance against Alabama last Saturday.

NCAA Basketball: Kentucky at Alabama Gary Cosby Jr.-USA TODAY Sports

Coming in to the 2021-22 season, Daimion Collins was a consensus top-10 recruit and a 5-star prospect. Many considered him the best center in high school hoops due to his 6-foot-9 frame and freakishly long arms and athletic bounce.

But once he got to Kentucky, Collins was behind the the others in terms of his development. Eventually, he was not being played much.

Of course, the emergence of Oscar Tshiebwe, Jacob Toppin, and Lance Ware in the frontcourt has had something to do with that, but Collins, for all intents and purposes, had not lived up to the ranking.

Collins had averaged just three minutes per game in conference play and did not play in the games against Georgia, Auburn, and Kansas.

Until last Saturday.

Collins was needed in a game against an Alabama Crimson Tide squad who featured long and athletic big men in the frontcourt, some that gave Oscar Tshiebwe fits. Collins stepped in and dropped 10 points and six rebounds in just nine minutes of action in a game that Kentucky needed for tournament seeding purposes.

Jai Lucas, who recruited Collins at Texas and then eventually at Kentucky, spoke Monday about Collins’ progressions while in Lexington:

“Extremely hard,” Lucas said Monday. “He’s 18 or 19 years old. He’s a McDonald’s All-American. He’s been the best player on his team probably from the time he was six years old all the way through 18.

“At 18, it’s something you’ve never had to deal with before being a high-level athlete. Sitting on the bench and not playing is not something you prepare yourself for if you are a competitor. That would tough for any basketball player, because every basketball player wants to get out there and play.

“But with a team like ours, we have a whole lot of good players. Everybody is going to have their night, so you have stay within yourself, keep yourself positive, and keep working.”

Collins said that a goal for the coaching staff has to been to put on tons of weight while in Lexington. The staff has Collins on a 5,000 calorie-a-day diet while lifting 3-4 times a week.

“I lift weights three to four times a week, and I’ve been on the meal plan to eat more,” Collins said. “I eat regular stuff, but I’m eating more times than I regularly do. They’re telling me I need to eat at least 5,000 calories a day to build my body.”

“It’s his body. It’s his gift and his curse,” Lucas added. “Some games you’ll be going against a 24-year-old, 255-pound guy. It is what it is. But one thing about Daimion that has helped him stay on his path is his awareness of who he is and where he is. When you’re small like that you just have to fight.”

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