There’s a sense of calm about Kyle Collinsworth as he races down the basketball court. It’s the first week of October, and the Marriott Center floor is abuzz as players run through drills in preparation for the 2014–2015 season. Catching a pass, Collinsworth effortlessly rises to the rim and dunks the ball in a smooth, fluid motion.
BYU’s All-WCC guard is back.
There’s a new addition to Collinsworth’s practice uniform. The long, black knee brace covering his right leg is subtle but significant. It was last season’s WCC tournament championship game where Collinsworth’s season — and any realistic hope of a deep Cougar NCAA tournament run —ended on a fluke second-half play that resulted in a torn ACL.
It’s now been seven months since that game. Collinsworth completes a variation of the three-man weave and proceeds to make his way to a stationary bike. He’ll rejoin his teammates after a short peddling session, a pattern that repeats throughout practice in an effort to further strengthen and protect his surgically reconstructed knee.
Collinsworth begins pumping. The process of rehabbing his way back onto the court has been long, but without setback.
“I’ve been impressed with Kyle over the summer, how he’s stuck with all his rehab,” senior captain Tyler Haws said. “He’s always in the weight room, always doing something, and he’s easing his way back into it. With the drills that he was in, he had a really good impact and played hard and didn’t seem like he was favoring his knee at all, so (I’m) excited to have him back.”
Although medically cleared to practice, Collinsworth still understands the importance of a patient submersion back into the action.
“Right now I feel like I could go into full contact and move and compete with the guys and excel, but there’s no rush,” Collinsworth said. “We’ve got a whole month before November comes around the corner, so we’re just being smart (and) taking our time.”
So will Collinsworth be ready to go by the time of the season opener on Nov. 1?
“If you ask him, he’d say it’s a guarantee,” BYU basketball coach Dave Rose said. “If there are no setbacks, it looks like a pretty good possibility.”
The only game he missed last season was the NCAA Tournament game.
Instead of leading the offense against seventh-seeded Oregon in Milwaukee, Collinsworth found himself home as a spectator while recovering from surgery. The Cougars lost 87-68.
“It was just kind of hard watching them play and us not winning that game,” Collinsworth said. “That was just frustrating that there was nothing I could do from a player’s standpoint at that time.”
But Collinsworth had more pressing obstacles to focus on overcoming — like finding the strength to raise his right leg.
Rather than focus on his limitations, Collinsworth chose to adopt a “can-do mindset,” an attitude he believes contributed to his speedy recovery. Weekly workouts started out with him simply lifting his leg up and down. The routines gradually progressed to walking, then walking at an incline, then jogging, then running and cutting on his right leg.
“His mentality and his outlook on everything was so positive,” said senior teammate Anson Winder. “It was awful to see him go down like that because he worked so hard to get back to that point, especially coming back from his mission. To go down and have to sit for another six or seven months, I know that really hurt him, but he stayed positive through the whole process.”
Also aiding in his recovery has been older brother and former BYU basketball teammate, Chris Collinsworth. The elder Collinsworth also underwent multiple knee surgeries before an ankle injury that ultimately cut his career short. The experience of rehabbing from major knee injuries has enabled Chris Collinsworth to give veteran advice to his younger brother.
“He always tells me to stay positive and to have a good perspective on it,” Kyle Collinsworth said of his brother. “To realize that at the end of the day, it is just basketball. That’s helped a lot — just to stay positive.”
Collinsworth flourished in his second full year on the team, averaging 14.0 ppg, 8.1 rpg, and 4.6 apg. His best performance came in the WCC Tournament, where he averaged 19.4 ppg, 12.0 rpg and 1.6 apg before going down with his injury. In the Cougars’ first-round game against Loyola Marymount, Collinsworth reached career highs in points (23) and rebounds (16). Now a junior, he looks to regain and even surpass his 2013-14 form.
“That’s been the expectation even right when I got hurt,” Collinsworth said. “Nothing’s changed; my goals haven’t changed. We want to do something special, something that hasn’t been done at BYU.”
The Cougars will need that kind of production out of Collinsworth as they look to claim their first conference championship since 2011.
“I think (fans can expect) the same Kyle Collinsworth and then some — even surpass what I did last year — and for this team to have high expectations,” Collinsworth said. “We plan to win every game we play. That’s the mindset we have.”
So, for now at least, the two-time team captain will continue watching and waiting, pumping away on the stationary bike.