Archives For Jeremy Johnson

Today Philips Arena carries the name earned by the Omni Coliseum beginning in 1982 as a slender 6 foot 8 inch forward out of the University of Georgia captured the imaginations of Hawks’ fans.

That slender-framed high flyer’s name was Dominique Wilkins. He was quickly dubbed the ‘Human Highlight Reel’ during his first few seasons in Atlanta. The leaping ability those in the state of Georgia had grown accustomed to was on display on the biggest stage as Wilkins participated in multiple NBA Slam Dunk Contests. His most memorable came as he defeated Michael Jordan head-to-head in the 1985 contest.

Present Hawks’ fans are beginning to feel similar every time rookie John Collins is in the open court. The same collective breath can be heard throughout Philips Arena with anticipation of a potential slam. Collins’ first splash in the league came in the NBA Summer League as he threw down multiple monstrous dunks. The 19th pick in the 2017 NBA Draft immediately earned expectations following his play this summer and early this season.

That attention has earned the 6 foot 10 inch forward consideration for the 2018 edition of the NBA Slam Dunk Contest. Collins has heard the whispers throughout the social media world as the NBA announced the All-Star teams earlier this week and hasn’t shied away from wanting to be a part of the showcase. Collins feels honored to be in the conversation.

“It’s really exciting and nerve-wracking,” Collins said. “There’s a lot of eyes watching the dunk contest, but then again it’s a big honor as well. It’s something that hopefully I can get into, but I’m grateful being in the conversation.”

An appearance in the on All-Star Saturday could do for Collins what it did for Wilkins during the 80s and Josh Smith’s Hawks in 2005. Beyond Collins as an individual the Hawks are a team that sits double-digit games below .500 so far this season, an electric performance by Collins on the big stage could be a highlight for a fan base looking for something to cling to in the form of positive growth in the near future.

“It would elevate it (my career) a lot,” Collins said. “Our team is in a bit of limbo trying to develop. So for me to get called into the dunk contest, that’s big time. My first year being able to go to L.A. to celebrate All-Star weekend would be big time if I get the call. It’ll be cool.”

Collins wasn’t born when Wilkins dunked his way past Jordan win in 1985, but as a basketball player and fan, he ranks it as one of the iconic moments in the NBA’s history. The Aaron Gordon and Zach Lavine showdown in 2016 is the most memorable dunk contest Collins has seen in his lifetime.

Collins says he will get creative and prepare if the opportunity comes to fruition, but a call could go to guys who have been a part of the event before.

“I’m going to prepare for it a little bit, think of some new tricks with social media and all that, there’s a lot of dunks that have been done, so I’ll have to come up with something new and innovative if I’m selected,” Collins said. “There will be some practice just finding some new dunks, something creative.”

Collins wouldn’t have too far to look for advice as Wilkins works for Fox Sports calling the Hawks’ games.

“Nique was one of the greatest dunkers of all time in this league, so I’d definitely ask him some tips and tidbits on what he tried to do to be creative when he was in the dunk contest,” Collins said. “He and Jordan had the very legendary one, so it’s always great to have him around just to ask for his advice on new stuff for the dunk contest.”

The contestants have yet to be announced for the Feb 17 event, but Collins name has been an interesting and one that has been spoken in high frequency in recent weeks.

A tribute was in order for a former Hawk when the Washington Wizards visited Philips Arena Wednesday night. Mike Scott spent his first five seasons in Atlanta with the Hawks where he appeared in 281 games and became one of the more well-liked players by the fan base.

The crowd showed their appreciation for Scott as there were numerous jerseys with Scott’s number 32 on the back throughout the arena, despite Scott being a member of the Wizards, a division rival and the team that eliminated the Hawks from the playoffs last season.

The Hawks also put together a video tribute chronicling Scott’s tenure with the team. The video ironically featured one of Scott’s most memorable moments in which he dunked on current teammate Bradley Beal and another monstrous slam on another current Wizards teammate Ian Mahinmi in the 2014 playoffs.

Scott was then met with a standing ovation to which he responded with appreciation as he acknowledged the crowd with a wave and a pound of his chest.

“That was dope,” Scott said. “I only spent five years here, but it was kind of a long five years. That was great. There was a lot of love from the fans and the coaching staff.”

Scott had Wednesday’s game circled to see his old friends and teammates like Kent Bazemore and Dennis Schroder, whom he spent most of his five seasons playing with. Scott expected it to be a little emotional and it was. Scott scored six points in the 18 minutes of work Wednesday. With the reunion checked off, Scott expects it to begin to feel normal when he faces the Hawks the next two times this season as the Wizards chase the top seed in the Eastern Conference.

“I thought about it,” Scott said. “I wish we would have won. But that felt good. I think we come back here late January, so I’m glad we got this over with and we can come back in January and just straight hoop.”

The Atlanta Hawks and Washington Wizards don’t have a friendly past. At least not the last three years, as the two teams have played a total of 22 times in the last three seasons.

The two teams have seen each other a lot in the big, high-pressure situations. Not only as combatants in the Southeast division, but the two teams played two back-to-back wars disguised as playoff series.

There were hard feelings.

Wizards forward Markeiff Morris has some choice words for then-Hawks forward Paul Millsap as he referred to Millsap as a ‘Crybaby’ following Game 3. Morris heard boos and cheers when he missed a free throw Wednesday night. Wizards’ point guard John Wall fired social media jabs at Hawks’ point guard Dennis Schroder after the Wizards eliminated the Hawks in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinals. This was iced off by multiple on-court altercations over the six games.

Point being, the two franchises don’t necessarily like one another. Wednesday, the schedule had them squaring off for the second time this season with expectations of more ‘chippiness’ between the teams.

“It seems like that was forever ago, it seems like both teams have had chippy moments both regular season and in playoff games and everything,” Hawks head coach Mike Budenholzer said. “I think it’s two competitive teams and when you know each other well and when you kind of almost anticipate and expect what’s coming, I think it leads to that little bit of extra edge from both sides. If it happens in a regular season game it’s not a surprise when you’ve played each other a ton.”

The Hawks haven’t forgotten. They haven’t forgotten that it was the Wizards who knocked them out of the postseason last season in addition to all of the back-and-forths that went on during games and through media off the court.

“You sort of [think about the chippiness], kind of have to, this is the team that put you out last year,” Hawks’ forward Taurean Prince said. “You kind of get fired up against a team like that. On top of that even if that wasn’t the case, they’re a good team and this is a good chance to get a good win.”

Both teams managed to behave on Wednesday with the fireworks coming on the court. The Hawks played inspired on both ends of the floor to earn the 113-99 win over the Wizards on Wednesday. Schroder led the way with 21 points and seven assists. Ersan Ilyasova scored 20 points, while Marco Belinelli added 19 off the bench. The Hawks defense added some quick and excitement to a mostly full-Philips Arena. John Collins blocked three shots. Kent Bazemore swatted a shot off the backboard that brought the crowd to its feet. Prince added two more blocks as the Hawks totaled seven blocks on the night. Hawks also held Wall to only 10 points.

“Good win for us coming off three days without a game,” Budenholzer said. “We had a couple stretches where we couldn’t score but our defense kept us in it and we kept getting enough stops.”

Hawks’ 2nd-year forward DeAndre Bembry isn’t used to watching his team play from the sidelines.

The 23-year-old wing out of Saint Joseph hadn’t dealt with an injury that has held him out as long as the fractured wrist he suffered in the Hawks’ season-opening win against the Dallas Mavericks back on Oct. 18.

This season, a season in which Bembry was expected to have a significant role increase for the Hawks, he’s been hit with two injuries that have kept him off the court. Bembry also sustained a strained right tricep in September that kept him out for about a month.

“I’ve never with injuries throughout my career, other than rolled ankles and stuff like that,” Bembry said. “It’s been funny, I got two injuries in a row with the arm muscle and then right after that I fractured my wrist, this is my first time and I’m just pushing through it.”

The initial prognosis called for Bembry to miss four-to-six weeks. Three weeks after his surgery Bembry is starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel for his return. Prior to Wednesday’s win over the Sacramento Kings Bembry was able to get up some shots pregame.

“I’m feeling a lot better,” Bembry said. “Going into three weeks off of surgery, the scale was between four-to-six weeks and I’m probably going to get another X-Ray to see how it’s looking this week just to check on it and see what’s inside and how its healed so far. That’s going to be the start of whenever I can come back. I’m working out, I’m shooting jumpers… The process has been going well so far.”

Bembry was indeed back soon, as he was listed as probably in the Hawks’ injury report on Friday. Bembry finally returned to game-action against the Celtics on Saturday, but was quickly put back on the bench when it because clear that thinks still weren’t 100-percent for him.

As Bembry said before, he doesn’t want to be hampered by the injury when he is on the floor.

“It’s full throttle when I get back, that’s why we’re having this process now, going through the motions of working out and seeing how much I can take as far as the pressure of pushing people and getting back out there,” Bembry said.

One Bembry is ready to fully return, Hawks’ head coach Mike Budenholzer’s bench gets deeper as the addition/return of Bembry adds another versatile wing that can play both ends of the floor as well as take some of the ball-handling duties and pressure off of the three point guards the Hawks rotate.
Bembry is ready to help where he can to give the Hawks a boost after a 3-13 start to the season.

“I’m definitely ready to get back out there, it’s tough when you’ve got a lot of guys that’s hurt and a lot of new guys coming in with big roles,” Bembry said. “I was looking forward to the start of the season, but I took the loss at the beginning and now I’m just trying to come back out there and try to help my teammates get a win somehow.”

It’s the little things.

Atlanta Hawks’ point guard Malcolm Delaney dives on the floor to tip a loose ball away from a Boston Celtics’ guard as Dennis Schroder sprints full speed after the loose ball. Schroder gathers the ball just before it goes out of bounds and finds center DeWayne Dedmon streaking down the middle of the paint for a dunk. Two points, all based on a few small, extra efforts.

The Hawks’ energy was evidenced throughout Monday’s game on a couple of occasions. Late in the fourth quarter, a Kent Bazemore pass was intercepted by Marcus Smart, Schroder did not pout or hesitate, it was a dead sprint back to get into position to where Schroder ultimately earned a charge. Next possession, Schroder hit a mid-range jumper to put the Hawks ahead by one.

Little things.

“For every team, it’s (hustle) is going to give energy into the game when somebody hustles or dives on the floor like Malcolm (Delaney) did, that’s why I chased the ball down,” Schroder said. “Those kinds of plays give the team energy. We competed for 48 minutes, we did a great job sticking with them, but they hit some tough shots, we’ve got to give them credit.”

Prior to the 2017-2018 NBA season the chatter league-wide stated that the Hawks weren’t supposed to be good. They were a lottery-bound team with slim hopes of many winning nights.

Well, they don’t seem to know nor care what they are ‘supposed’ to be. The Hawks knocked off the presumed top-dogs in the Eastern Conference Sunday evening in a 117-115 win over the Cleveland Cavaliers. Monday, they battled the team that was considered the next best thing in the Boston Celtics to a 110-107 loss. The Hawks had their chances and with a little over a minute left in the game the Hawks looked up and saw themselves in the lead.

Little things.

“We don’t have a superstar or whatever, so we’ve got to do all the little things like competing on the defensive end, dive on the floor whatever it takes to win some games,” Schroder said. “I think we got better tonight competing for 48 minutes and they hit some tough shots and you’ve got to give them credit.”

The Hawks’ loss Monday night dropped them to 2-9 on the season, a record that was expected but deceiving. The Hawks have been in most of their losses with only three coming by a margin of 12 or more. Bazemore feels that there is a light at the end of the tunnel that has been the first 11 games of the season and thinks the energy and effort of the last few games have brought the team closer together.

“Our record doesn’t show, but it’s not as bad as it looks,” Bazemore said. “We’ve been in pretty much every game. I thought the Houston game and probably the Milwaukee game out of the 11 we’ve played were the only two that we kind of didn’t show up. Going into the last three games actually brought us closer together. If you’d have told someone we’d split these games at this point of time in the season, they’d probably laugh. To get one of the two is big for us. We actually had chances to win two, so it’s early in the season and we still got 71 to go so anything can happen.”

As the Atlanta Hawks attempted to an ultimately futile comeback in the third and fourth quarter of Sunday’s 117-106 loss to the Milwaukee Bucks, a new, slightly unfamiliar face was among the familiar ones.

Isaiah Taylor, a second-year player out of the University of Texas found himself running with the starters late as incumbent backup point guard Malcolm Delaney sat, not seeing a minute in the second half. Hawks’ head coach Mike Budenholzer was pleased with Taylor’s speed, energy, passing, shooting ability and ability to create for himself and his teammates while starter Dennis Schroder was out of the game as well as high energy on the defensive end.

“When he’s been on the court I think just his speed, his ability to get to the paint and really his willingness to pass kind of collapses defenses and he finds guys,” Budenholzer said. “He’s made shots too. I don’t think he’s shot a lot of 3s, but he made one early tonight. He’s made a couple in other games and getting to the free throw line. I think just giving him a chance, he’s a young guy. Like I said when we first got him, I think we’re excited about having him and seeing him grow.”

Taylor, who signed with the Hawks one day before the season-opener against the Dallas Mavericks, logged what was tied for his season-high 16 minutes Sunday in the loss and put in seven points for the Hawks.

Taylor has spent the first six games of the 2017 season acclimating to a new team and a new philosophy. Sunday, Taylor felt as comfortable as he’s been in a Hawks’ uniform and it all started with a three-pointer early in the first half. Taylor feels the shot allowed him to bring the energy that Budenholzer covets and ultimately led to him seeing extended minutes late.

“Whenever you come in and hit a bucket, it’s just like ‘let’s go,’ that’s everybody’s moment, I don’t care if you have no energy at all, you get in the game and you get a bucket, you’re automatically going 100 percent,” Taylor said.

Taylor only played in four games last season for the Houston Rockets, but the experience of learning from James Harden and the coaching staff of the Rockets and the coaching staff of the Rockets’ G League affiliate Rio Grande Valley Vipers has helped Taylor prepare for the minutes that he is seeing so far in 2017.

“It helped me a lot going down to the D League last year with RGV,” Taylor said. “That coaching staff down there was amazing. I think they helped me a lot during my progress in the NBA. They got me ready for this moment.”

Taylor could be a big part of the Hawks’ rotation moving forward as they search for combinations that work after losing six games in a row. Taylor has finally gained his footing in Atlanta, a process that was aided by the fact that Taylor played against John Collins in summer league and has watched all of the Hawks from afar the past few seasons. Gaining the consistent minutes and the trust of his teammates is the next step for Taylor.

“I’m doing all right,” Taylor said. “I played against John (Collins) in summer league. I know what ‘TP’ (Taurean Prince) can do. Before I got here I watched a lot of these dudes on T.V. before. It’s just gaining trust in them and them gaining trust in me so that I can put them in position to be successful on the court. I think that’s the next step for me to feel even more comfortable.”

By Jeremy Johnson

With less than a week before his regular season NBA debut, Hawks’ rookie John Collins took a step back into the past as he again found himself in a high school gym.

It wasn’t Cardinal Newman High School, where Collins gained the attention that attracted the Wake Forest coaching staff. Collins entertained a crowd of basketball players, students and parents at Athens Academy in Athens, Ga. Collins partnered with the BMW of Athens to get the opportunity to show his face in his community.

“It’s cool when I came to Atlanta, I partnered with Athens BMW,” Collins said. “For me to come out here and do this is pretty cool to see so many kids out here. I know it’s not the Atlanta Metro or greater Atlanta area, but it’s definitely cool to get out here and get my face out here with the kids in the community.”

Smiles and laughs were abundant as Collins played 5 on 1 scrimmages with students, signed autographs and even threw down a thunderous dunk in which Collins leaped over three youngsters and snagged an alley-oop from another.

Being back in a high school gym brought back some memories for Collins and he admits he misses the old high school days.

“It was really about two years ago, I was graduating high school and I moved on to college and now I’m actually in the pros,” Collins said. “I get the feeling whenever I come to a high school gym. It’s really familiar, that smell, that atmosphere. I kind of miss it, but aye I’m on to bigger and better things.”

By Jeremy Johnson

Growing up Collins doesn’t remember getting an experience like the one he provided the youngsters of Athens Academy with Sunday evening. For that reason, Collins prides himself in getting out and being seen by the younger generation. He knows the type of impact meeting professional athletes can have on young people and it’s something he wants to continue.

“That was really the big part of it, I didn’t have a lot of pro players that stuck out in my memory, that came out to visit me” Collins said. “I know how big of an impact that would have had on me when I was younger to see one or be around one, even if it was only for a couple of minutes. I understand the impact it has, especially for the kids that want to play basketball.”

Collins realizes his NBA dreams for real as the Hawks tip off the 2017 season in Dallas against the Mavericks.

By Jeremy Johnson

The world changed forever on September 11, 2001. As the world watched as the events of that day unfolded, a young John Collins too pondered the impact that the world’s deadliest terrorist attack would have on his life.

For Collins, 9/11 was 12 days away from his 4th birthday, and he had a hard time understanding just what the events meant. He does remember the results of that day as they shifted Collins from his address from Turkey to the U.S. Virgin Islands. Collins’ mother was in the Air Force and was stationed in Turkey at the time of the attacks. As the country prepared for war, Collins’ mother sent him to live with his grandparents in St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands after the base in Turkey was evacuated.

“It’s kind of crazy and stuff happens, my mom’s a trouper,” Collins said. “I think I was really too young to understand what was going on at the time. It really didn’t hit me as hard as other people, which is kind of crazy to think about.”

Throughout the time in between then all the way until the Hawks selected Collins with the 19th pick in the 2017 NBA Draft, Collins has moved around with his mother and as other rookie players adjust to living far from home for the first time while also making the social adjustment that comes with changing cities, Collins has already dealt with many types of people and socially feels he can get along with anyone.

Adjusting to the different personalities and connecting with people isn’t the only thing that Collins learned from growing up in a military atmosphere at home.

“At a young age I got used to [moving and traveling] and I actually kind of like it,” Collins said. “I don’t know why going to different places gives me different perspectives in mind. It also helped me socially, not having a group of friends and having to be able to talk and moving my way through people constantly. It’s helped me a lot.”

The professionalism and discipline Collins now carries himself with began with a strict upbringing at home. Collins admits his mother was strict, but he now appreciates where that learned discipline has carried him.

“My mom and my dad actually split up really early so it was a single parent household and my mom, it was really strict, a little different living in a military household, traveling all around the world at a young age,” Collins said. “It definitely gave me perspective as a little kid… It’s something that molds right together is that discipline and tolerance that comes with being a military kid and growing up in that military lifestyle and turning that into professionalism. I’ve become a true pro, though I’m trying to learn my way, I’m still a rookie and I’ve got things to learn. It’s part of the process. Becoming a true professional and a true one day in and day out.”

Today, the world goes through another set of changes with the world of sports caught in the middle of a bit of a revolution as teams, athletes and the media outlets that cover them go back and forth on how to protest the police brutality and social injustices that plague the country. The country appears divided on standing or kneeling for the national anthem. The form of protest has been a dividing factor the past few weeks after President Donald Trump’s comments.

As Collins enters his rookie season in the NBA the debate hits home, but he thinks the correct response and form of protest is based on the individual. Collins thinks everyone has a right to voice their opinion in the manner they find fit.

“I think it really just varies from person to person and how they feel about the topic,” Collins said. “That person can have a difference in opinion when it comes to how they feel if it respects the flag or doesn’t respect the flag and I think it’s all about finding your way to correctly do it and express it the way you want to express it. I think once that’s found out and fulfilled it up to them how they express their opinion. For me, I’m a military kid, so it’s always close to home when you start talking about stuff like that.”

If there were an experiment to further understand the effects of road weariness, the Atlanta Hawks would be the subject.

The Hawks finally played a ‘home’ preseason game Monday night that was only a home game in the sense that is was played in the city of Atlanta. The Hawks defeated the Memphis Grizzlies 100-88 in the penultimate game of the preseason.

The Hawks will play again Thursday at Georgia Tech’s McCamish Pavilion before a few days of practice and rest before heading out on the road for five straight road games.

The Hawks are the only team in the NBA with home opener later than Oct.27 as Phillips Arena undergoes its final stages of the first phase of a two-phase renovation.

Travel of the NBA is typical, but even so, starting the season with as much travel as the Hawks have endured have playing having to adjust as veterans like forward Kent Bazemore tries to pass his knowledge down to the many young players the Hawks have. Bazemore admits the road-life gets tough and things as simple as a home cooked meal and bed become a luxury when the team gets time off or plays at home.

“It kind of mimics what we’ve got going on to start the season on that last road trip we had, but you’ve to take it a day at a time,” Bazemore said. “One thing you kind of miss on the road is a home cooked meal and your own bed. It’s good to be back home for a little bit and enjoy that. It comes with the territory, you’ve just got to be smart. I’ve learned a lot from a lot of veterans in front of me how to optimize the rest on the road. I’m trying to share that with some of these young guys.”

For a rookie like John Collins, Monday was the first time he got to hear Ryan Cameron’s ‘Jam’ call whenever a Hawks’ player throws down a dunk. Collins was excited to play in front of his fans for the first time.

“I thought it was cool, we had a nice little road trip in preseason to start off, so it’s been good for us,” Collins said. “It’s always good to see that crowd cheering when you score a bucket. It felt good to get some energy.”

With 11 new players on the roster as of Monday, the Hawks needed to get to acquainted. The time the group has spent together has been a bit of a blessing for players to not only get a feel for what one another can do on the court but also get to know the guys and make some off the floor connections.

“We spent a ton of time together on the road, whether it be at dinner or just hanging out and playing video games,” Bazemore said. “It’s just good to kind of get that bonding time on the road. We had training camp and we came home for like a day and a half, but we’ve kind of been around each other for a little bit and kind of feeling each other out off the court and it’s starting to show on the court as well.”

After Thursday’s final preseason contest against the Dallas Mavericks, the Hawks will have five days before facing the Mavericks again in regular season-opener in Dallas. The Hawks first five games are on the road. Phillips Arena is scheduled to reopen on Friday, Oct. 27 as the Hawks host the Denver Nuggets.