Now, three and a half years after playing their last home game in Lawrence on March 1, 2003, Hinrich and Collison will return to Allen Fieldhouse on Oct. 15 for their exhibition game between the Chicago Bulls and Seattle Supersonics.
They’re back home. For one more time.
“I’m excited about the game,” said the Bulls’ Hinrich. “It gives me an opportunity to see a lot of friends I haven’t seen in a long time, and also play in Allen Fieldhouse, which I think is the all-time best basketball arena. It has so much history.”
Collison can’t wait to return himself.
“I think it will be a lot of fun,” said Collison, a fourth-year pro for Seattle. “It will be kind of a weird experience just because it’s obviously going to be much different than when we played in college. It will be different for me because I kind have not been in the spotlight like that for four years now, so I’m sure I’ll get more attention than I will all year.”
Collison and Hinrich were, indeed, the center of attention during their KU days. They led Kansas to back-to-back Final Fours in 2002 and 2003, and were named to the 2003 All-Final Four team.
Their professional careers have since taken on different journeys after both were selected in the NBA draft lottery. With his great leadership, gritty hustle and defensive prowess, Hinrich has become the face of the Bulls’ franchise, a team which had been searching for a star since Michael Jordan left the team in 1998. NBA analyst Steve Kerr said Hinrich has a chance to become the “next Steve Nash,” the Phoenix Suns guard who won the league MVP the past two seasons.
Hinrich, who averaged 15.9 points and 6.3 assists last season (20.5 points and 7.7 assists in the playoffs), is now coming off a summer where he played on the bronze medal USA National Team at the World Championships in Asia. Playing with superstars like LeBron James and Dwayne Wade, Hinrich shined as the squad’s best perimeter defender and second-leading three-point shooter.
“Obviously, the talent on that team was unbelievable,” Hinrich said. “I think I’m going to be a better player for the experience. I’m going into the season with a high confidence level.”
Hinrich hopes the addition of seven new Bulls’ players, including star free-agent acquisition Ben Wallace, will make for a memorable season in Chicago.
“I think we definitely have the pieces to compete for (the championship),” Hinrich said. “We’ll be about as deep as any team in the league, and we got a lot of talent. The sky’s the limit.”
While Collison has not experienced as much success as Hinrich, his future is bright as well. He averaged career highs in minutes (21.9), points, (7.5), and rebounds (5.6) last season, and those numbers could dramatically improve this year. Collison scored 11 points and hauled down 12 rebounds in his first exhibition game on Oct. 11, and then followed up with 20 points against the Los Angeles Lakers a day later.
Collison, who sat out his rookie season recuperating from surgery on both shoulders, seems primed for a breakout year under former KU assistant Bob Hill.
“It’s the last year of my deal, so it will be a big year for me,” Collison said. “It will affect the rest of my career, probably.”
The second-leading scorer and rebounder in Kansas history said he’s enjoying playing for Hill, who took over the Sonics’ head coaching job last January.
“He’s trying to bring a style of play that I think really fits us,” Collison said. “He’s trying to play up-tempo, really a lot of things coach (Roy) Williams tried to do, and push the ball after makes and misses.”
Collison is certainly hoping to make a lot of shots this year and help Seattle gain a playoff berth. Of course, no matter how much success he and Hinrich achieve in the NBA, they will always treasure their time at Kansas.
So any wager on Sunday’s game?
"No bets," Hinrich said. "He's a great kid and I don't want to take his money."
Collison isn’t buying that.
"I think they're 0-4 since we've been playing (in the NBA), so if we're betting, he has a long way to go to make up,” Collison said.
The two KU legends will soon find out who gets the upper hand Sunday in front of a crazed and magical Allen Fieldhouse crowd.
“Kansas basketball fans are about as good as it comes as far as knowledge of the game and understanding,” Hinrich said. “I’m just excited about getting a chance to play in front of them again one last time.”
So is his good friend and former teammate.
“KU fans are great,” Collison said. “They support you forever.”