Kentucky coaches and players bow their heads during a moment of silence for Ben Collins at Rupp Arena Thursday night. (Vicky Graff Photo)
After the unexpected death of Daimion Collins’ father, Ben, just one day after Kentucky players had seen him watching them practice, coach John Calipari was not certain if UK should even play Thursday night’s exhibition game against Kentucky State.
“I even asked the guys, do you want to play this exhibition? I left it up to them. Because, you know, everybody grieves different. And everybody handles what just happened differently,” Calipari said after the 111-53 victory over Kentucky State Thursday night.
“And a lot of it will be a couple days from now. That there may be some stuff we got to deal with.”
Collins’ father had a trucking business in Texas that Calipari said he sold so he could spend more time in Lexington with his son.
“Think about that. Said, I can’t leave it in anyone else’s hands so I’m going to sell the business,” Calipari said. “He wasn’t up here full-time, but he was in and out. And he happened to be in. And I always — he would sit up in the upper deck. He would wave to me and sit up there and watch. The guys that were in the gym that night before and saw him in there.”
Collins’ mother got worried about her husband when she didn’t hear from him. Calipari had to talk to both her and the UK sophomore forward after he learned Ben Collins had passed.
It’s a heartbreaking story for a college sophomore to lose his 43-year-old father. It was heartbreaking for me at age 44 when my father passed at age 65 in 1996 after a failed heart transplant. We knew his status but it didn’t make his passing any easier. I cannot imagine dealing with the unexpected passing of my father as a college sophomore like Daimion Collins now has to do.
Calipari has obviously been shaken, too.
“I was good until I walked in the room and saw their (players’) faces (after Ben Collins’ passing). And you’re trying to stay strong for them. But it took me some time to get composed,” the UK coach said. “And the message, you know, it wasn’t what Ben did and it’s not something that someone did to Ben. God took him.
“The night before he was with Daimion. They were in the gym for an hour and a half. When he got back to the apartment he called his wife. They were on the phone for 20 minutes. When he hung up the phone some time shortly thereafter he passed away.”
Calipari said six UK players stayed at his home the first night after Ben Collins’ death. Daimion Collin’s mother, sister, aunt and cousins came to Lexington from Texas and stayed with John and Ellen Calipari.
Daimion Collins obviously did not play in the exhibition game and there was a moment of silence for his father before the game. Calipari said the UK sophomore is always “quiet” and that concerns the coach.
“I told him, grieving and depression, you’re going to get in a dark place. And my only thing to him was, if all you’re doing is sleeping and looking at that phone, you’re in that dark place. And if you need to talk to players, talk to your teammates. Even if you’re crying, you got to talk to somebody,” Calipari said.
He’s right. It’s hard to keep those feelings to yourself. I know. I tried and it was hard. Even today it’s still hard for me to talk about my father’s passing and Collins is going to need to lean on Calipari, his staff and his players for several months —or maybe longer.
Daimion Collins went home to Texas to be with family.
“I feel for Daimion. I worry about him. We had psychologists there for the team if they needed it. And they got cards if they want to do something,” Calipari said. “I had a couple guys stay at the house last night again. But the only thing I said to (Ben’s wife) Kim and Daimion is, God is good. His last hours were with his son who he loved and was very, very close to. And he was on the phone with his wife.”
This time Calipari, who seldom is at a loss for words, knows there’s very little he can say and there really are no right or wrong words to help a grieving family,
“I just was listening and there for them and how can we help, what can we do,” Caliipari said. “But I told him (Daimion), you know, you take what you need to take, how much time you need to take. We’ll hold the fort down for you.”
Hold the fort down and play this season while thinking about him and his father daily because this is going to be an emotional journey for Collins that is going to require a lot of love and nurturing from Calipari that has nothing to do with basketball.
“At the end of the day I’m dealing with people’s children. I had one of the parents call me from this team, and say, ‘You look after my son, please. He’s never dealt with anything like this.’ And he’s one of the guys that stayed at the house. And he stayed again last night for the same reason,” Calipari said Thursday night.
“It puts things into the perspective it needs to be. And it’s not fair. I told the team. Things aren’t fair.”