Erin Collie thought she was all set for the big moment Sunday.
She was wrong.
Sitting several rows up in the Nutter Center – right behind the Wright State bench – she had her iPhone in her hand. Her husband Aaron was with her, as were three of their children and seven other folks from back home in Parkersburg, W.Va.
The Collie’s son Daniel – a walk-on, junior guard for the Raiders – was starting against Youngstown State. It was the first start of his college career and the improbability of it all would make the video Erin planned to make all the more treasured.
Coming out of Parkersburg Catholic High, Daniel had bypassed some chances to play basketball at Division II and III schools because he said, “I always wanted to challenge myself and I saw D-I basketball as the biggest challenge I could have.”
Most Division I schools didn’t quite see it the same way.
“I sent e-mails to over 50 Division I schools saying I’d be willing to be a walk-on if they’d let me,” he said. “The few schools I did hear back from mostly said, ‘Naah , thanks for the e-mail but we don’t have a spot.’ Wright State was the only school that said it would give me a look.”
It may have helped that WSU assistant coach Chris Moore played high school basketball for Collie’s grandfather at Seneca High in Louisville, but the Raiders really made no promises.
They eventually added him to the end of the bench, but in his first 2 ½ seasons – before last Thursday’s game against UIC – Collie had played a total of just 62 minutes over 18 games and had scored six points.
But WSU’s roster is now decimated by injury. Five of the top players – including the top three scorers and top three rebounders – are in street clothes. Coming into Sunday’s game, the team had lost four in a row and seven of its last eight games.
Coach Billy Donlon, already digging deep into his bench to field a team, wanted to shake things up even further and said Collie would start Sunday.
The decision went back to Thursday’s 79-75 loss to UIC. The Raiders had been down by 15 and had clawed their way back in the second half thanks to a patchwork lineup that included Collie.
He played the whole second half against the Flames and though he didn’t score, he had played gritty defense.
The Collies were back in Parkersburg that night and almost missed their son’s coming-out party.
“He had told us he might get in, but when he didn’t play in the first half we thought Coach Donlon had just decided to go with seven players,” Erin said. “At halftime we flipped the dial, but then we came back to the game and I told my husband, ‘Daniel’s in there.’
“He said, ‘No he’s not,’ and I said, ‘Oh yes he is.’”
Sunday the Collies were ready for Daniel’s first start although Erin admitted: “We were nervous … I was trying to take a video when they introduced him as a starter, but I started crying as soon as they called his name and I was shaking.”
The video might have ended up a little blurry, but the moral of the story was crystal clear, Aaron said:
“It’s a good life lesson on hard work, determination and patience. He knew when he came here it would be an uphill battle to get playing time, but he stayed with it, worked hard and it paid off.”
Unfortunately for the Raiders, the full payoff fell a few points short again Sunday.
After fighting their way back from sizeable deficits three times in the second half, the Raiders finally took the lead 69-68 on a Grant Benzinger lay-up with 2:13 left. But the Penguins then rattled off six straight points and WSU never scored again in the 74-69 loss.
Afterward Donlon had nothing but praise for two of his players: “I can’t really say enough positive things about the way Grant Benzinger and Daniel Collie have played the last two games. They’ve been phenomenal.”
Benzinger had a game-high 22 points. Collie played 23 minutes, scored three points, had three rebounds, two assists, a steal and most importantly played commendable defense again.
Saying he wanted to feed the hot hands – especially Benzinger – Collie only shot once. On a couple of occasions he turned down open looks, but there was one moment when he had no choice.
With the shot clock running out midway through the second half, guard Reggie Arceneaux drove the lane, found it clogged and whipped the ball out to the Collie, who was on the wing, right next to the Raiders’ bench.
“I heard Coach Donlon behind me say, ‘Shoot it in!’” Collie said. “And with his confidence in me, I thought I could put it in the basket.”
His net-snapping three pointer didn’t surprise those who know his background.
He averaged 20 points a game as a senior in high school, was his team’s captain and its MVP. His dad played basketball at Marshall University. His mom was on state championship teams in high school. His uncle played at VCU and his granddad, Glenn Collie, coached at Sullivan University in Louisville, too.
More than pedigree, though Collie has banked on work ethic.
“Daniel has never had a bad day due to lack of work and very few 18 to 22 year olds can say that,” said Donlon, who put him in the category of four of the Raiders most dedicated players of recent years: Cory Cooperwood., Vaughn Duggins, Kendall Griffin and Matt Vest.
Collie said: “That’s the way I was brought up. You work hard and do everything to the best of your ability when you’re in school or on the basketball court.
“It’s all about your attitude and how you look at things. Whether I was playing or not, I had a love of the game of basketball and for my teammates. If I could help them in practice get better and we won games that was good with me.”
That may explain why, when asked for the highlight of his WSU career, he didn’t mention a personal moment of glory. Instead he singled out the Horizon League tournament semifinal victory two years ago:
“My most memorable moment here is when Miles Dixon hit that buzzer-beater my freshman year to beat Detroit in the tournament. I remember being overjoyed and running onto the floor.
“Back home my mom and dad paused the TV and took a picture. I had the biggest smile. I think that represents who I am. That was a great moment.”
Another one was Sunday, but mom had trouble with that picture.