Craig Robinson was tinkering with the Oregon State men’s basketball lineup during some games in Europe last summer when he noticed how well Devon Collier played after sitting courtside.
Robinson saw that Collier didn’t just watch the game. He spent the time mentally breaking down the defense so he’d be ready when his name was called.
Robinson’s interest was piqued. Guard Roberto Nelson was probably moving into a starting spot and that left an opening for OSU’s sixth man.
“Watching Devon being able to see what’s going on in the game and then come in and then be able to score immediately, that’s when I thought, ‘Huh, he’d be an interesting guy to come off the bench,’ ” Robinson said. “We practiced like that and when we got to our first games, that was it.”
Instead of starting as he did for most of his first two seasons at OSU, Collier became the Beavers’ sixth man.
This was no demotion. Robinson relies on his sixth man to enter the game and give the team an offensive lift.
“In my mind the sixth man was always the guy to come in and give your team a jolt after the game had already started,” he said. “And that jolt doesn’t always have to be points. It could be rebounds, it could be steals, it could be defense.”
The position has primarily added a boost in points for the Beavers.
Nelson was primarily a scorer off the bench. Collier can score, but as a 6-8 forward he can also rebound and defend inside.
“It’s just evolved into being a scoring position for us of late,” Robinson said. “First you have Roberto, then you have Devon, who are prolific-type scorers. But when Jared (Cunningham) was a freshman, we used him as a sixth man for defensive purposes. Devon could also be viewed as a defensive presence with his shot-blocking ability.”
Collier has thrived in the situation.
He is the Beavers’ No. 2 scorer behind Nelson, averaging 15.4 points.
Collier backed up Nelson’s career 34-point night with 25 points and eight rebounds in the win over Chicago State on Sunday and has been OSU’s leading scorer three times: He had 23 at Portland State and came up big in front of friends and family at New York City’s Madison Square Garden, where he had 21 in a loss to Alabama and then helped the Beavers defeat Purdue with 27.
“It’s been working out good so far, so it must have been a good decision that he made, but of course nobody who’s a starter likes to come off the bench,” Collier said. “But it’s for the team and if it makes us win then I’m OK with it.”
For the most part, Robinson’s strategy is to insert the sixth man after the first media timeout.
That can change from game to game.
“There are times when I thought we needed an offensive boost or a rebounding boost and I’ve brought him in two minutes in,” Robinson said.
“Now that we have Jarmal (Reid) starting, who is a pretty good defender, I don’t have to bring Devon early for defensive purposes. I can just wait until we need an offensive jolt.”
Collier has continued to watch and learn at the start of each game.
Instead of tweaking his game on the fly, he’s ready to go into attack mode.
“It’s different when you’re starting because when you’re starting the game, then you’re seeing it while it’s happening to you, but when you’re sitting, you’re seeing it while it’s happening,” Collier said.
“So you’re able to adjust while you’re on the bench rather than adjusting while you’re in the game. So it gives you better timing in the game to know what to do and what not to do.”