Sherron Collins drives the lane, shoulder buried in the chest of his teammate.

Up he goes for a layup.

Swish.

Collins is the first NBA player assigned to the Red Claws this season. At 5-foot-11, 205 pounds, he is built more like a tailback. And yes, he says, that’s the kind of grit he brings to the court.

“I play physical. It helps me hold guys off on my hip,” said Collins, assigned to Maine last week by the Charlotte Bobcats. “And I play with emotion. It’s what a point guard should do.”

Collins may not stick around long. The former Kansas standout — he was an All-American and played on an NCAA championship team — was assigned to Maine to log minutes and get into game shape.

Collins began the preseason with an ankle injury and was used sparingly by the Bobcats.

“The team had been struggling and couldn’t find minutes for him,” said Charlotte assistant coach LaSalle Thompson, who is in Maine with Collins. “As a rookie, playing is good.”

He made his debut with the Red Claws last week on the road and will make his first appearance at the Portland Expo tonight against the Idaho Stampede.

Idaho features former Boston Celtics All-Star Antoine Walker, who at 34 is trying to make a comeback in the NBA via the Development League.

Red Claws Coach Austin Ainge said Collins will see significant playing time.

“We’re going to play him for sure, partly because he’s an affiliate’s player. The Bobcats sent him here to play,” said Ainge. “But also because he deserves it. He’s a good player. He’s strong. He plays like a running back and he’s very smart, too.”

Fitting in with the team was not hard for Collins, who said he knew Paul Harris from McDonald’s All-Star games in high school, played against Tiny Gallon (Oklahoma) in the Big 12 and knew a half-dozen other teammates through a variety of basketball connections.

“They’ve been asking me a lot of questions about being up (in the NBA),” said Collins. “It’s a great locker room in Charlotte. But I’m still a rookie, too. I just got there.”

He’s quickly become vocal on the floor, but is hoping to return to Charlotte soon.

“I put high expectations on myself,” said Collins. “I want to be a starting point guard in the NBA. Hopefully that happens with Charlotte.”

Thompson said Collins’ situation will be reevaluated after the weekend: “He’ll be here at least through this weekend and we’ll reassess how he’s responded. … We like him. Coach (Larry Brown) likes him. He’s a great kid, a great athlete. He works hard.”

The Red Claws lost two games last weekend to the BayHawks at Erie. Tonight’s game begins a stretch of three games in four days. Maine is at Springfield on Friday before returning home to face Idaho again Sunday.

“We just have to play better,” said Ainge. “There are so many things we have to fix, including playing better defense.”

NOTE: Gallon (sore back) practiced this week and his play will be a game-day decision.

Staff Writer Jenn Menendez can be contacted at 791-6426 or at:

[email protected]