By Mickey Furfari
For the Times West Virginian
Phil Collins of East Cleveland, Ohio, spent a year at a junior college in the Midwest before coming to West Virginia to join the men’s basketball team for three outstanding seasons in 1980-81-82.
The 6-foot-9, 230-pound center was not only big but strong and tough under Coach Gale Catlett’s tutelage. He was a team captain as a senior.
“I couldn’t run, I couldn’t jump, but I thought I could fit in somewhere,” he said modestly in a recent interview. “Oh, yeah, I really enjoyed my years at WVU. I had a fantastic time. I had a great time there all around.”
In all, Collins played in 93 games — all but three as a starter. He made 221 of 468 field goals (47.2 percent) and cashed 223 of 337 free throws (66.2 percent), for a total of 665 points (7.2 per game).
But it was his defensive rebounding in which he helped the Mountaineers most with 530 during his three years (5.7 average).
The Ohio native also had 99 assists, 52 steals and 18 blocked shots.
Collins said, “Socially, basketball-playing, West Virginia is a great place. I played for Coach Catlett in his early years. I loved every minute of it.”
Collins, who had played his freshman year at Dodge City (Kan.) Junior College, is still working for an electrical distribution company in Cleveland. He’s in his 23rd year with that firm.
There are several agencies for that same industry, according to the former Mountaineer. “I also have been refereeing high school basketball games in Ohio for more than 10 years,” he said.
As a three-year starter, Collins helped lead the Mountaineers to consecutive records of 15-14, 23-10 and 27-4 (one of the best in WVU history).
Phil’s wife Cathy is a hydraulics purchaser for Buyers Products in Mentor, Ohio.
They have two daughters. Katie, the youngest at 21, is a senior who plays basketball at Edinboro (Pa.) College. She is a 3.82 student.
Kelsey, the oldest daughter at 23, is a nurse at the famed Cleveland Clinic’s emergency room.
Collins, who graduated with a bachelor’s degree in business management in 1983, recalled with pride that he had a hand in the Coliseum’s record 39-game home winning streak from 1980-83. It still stands.
“Hey, we won a lot of games,” he stressed. “We didn’t think we could lose.”
He also remembers that West Virginia’s appearance in the 1981 National Invitation Tournament was the school’s first trip to a postseason event since 1968. The team won three games before losing in the finals and a consolation game.
Collins also played in the NCAA Tournament as a senior in Logan, Utah. WVU defeated North Carolina A&T, but then lost to Fresno State.
While the rugged center contributed to five wins in six tries against Pitt, the one in Pittsburgh in 1979-80 is the most cherished. He explained, “One of their players was at the free throw line and stepped across. An official called the infraction near the game’s end, and we won 66-65 on their court.
“Pitt fans were fit to be tied. They needed police outside for us to leave the arena.”