Andre Collins, a reserve guard for the 2001-02 Maryland men’s basketball national championship team, now frequently spends his time in a warehouse in Parsonsburg, Md., just outside of Salisbury. Upon entering, he immediately sees a room coated with Maryland colors.
Collins, 39, takes a deep breath and smiles at the sight before him, knowing that he has stayed immersed in basketball. Collins opened “The Lab,” a basketball training facility for kids 7 and older, including even adults, in March 2018. He is thrilled that he now has the opportunity to serve as a coach and mentor for so many youngsters, just like his former coaches did for him.
After retiring from playing basketball in Europe, Collins wanted to remain involved with the game. He ran a basketball camp during the summer of 2016. The more he worked with kids, the more he enjoyed it.
“I wanted to pass on the knowledge and experiences that I have gained throughout my career playing,” Collins said. “I just wanted to pay the game forward and try to help kids and give back to the best of my abilities.”
Collins then reconnected with Amber Elliott, a family friend and former Division I women’s basketball player at Maryland Eastern Shore, doing similar work. The two soon realized that their lessons would be stronger together.
The duo started looking for a facility. One of Collins’ initial hoops clients eventually purchased a warehouse that he leased out to Collins and Elliott.
“He felt the pain of having to cancel sessions with his son, just the back and forth of trying to find different locations,” Collins said.
As such, Collins found a home for the kids.
The Lab allows youngsters to learn and improve their game. Kids can participate in group or individualized training, take part in open gym sessions and learn from two former Division I athletes. Pricing varies.
Collins strongly believes that this facility can change the basketball culture on the Eastern Shore, as he relays basketball skills and life lessons.
“We don’t look at this as just a channel of basketball. We do a lot of mentoring as well,” Collins said. “While working with these kids, a lot of parents [are] having a hard time with their child. They’ll reach out to us. Just the relationships, attitudes, caring about school and then the basketball skills, we’ve seen improvement in every aspect.”
Given the facility’s success, Collins and Elliott are now in the process of rebranding The Lab, which will become “Xposure Athletics — The Sports Company” in the spring.
“We want to continue to grow. We want to provide good training, and then we want to expand outside of basketball,” Collins said. “We want to try to expand to different sports, provide basketball leagues, soccer leagues and whatever it is that is needed on the Eastern Shore.”
Elliott admires Collins.
“Andre was a great player. He was probably one of the best all-around players that I’ve seen,” Elliott said. “He was always somebody that if basketball was your passion, he was always somebody to look up to.”
But to Collins, the facility goes beyond having a stable place for kids to train. He understands the challenges, particularly regarding exposure, that come with growing up as an athlete on the Eastern Shore. Collins fell in love with the game at a young age and wanted to make a career out of it, so he can relate to the kids with whom he works.
“I understood from the beginning that to do something of that magnitude and come from the Eastern Shore, I had to work twice as hard as anyone else,” Collins said. “I’ve just been blessed, and even into today where I’m able to give back and still have the ability to make some type of impact with the younger guys. I was really just being confident in myself, not having a Plan B. I put everything I had into my Plan A.”
Collins graduated from Crisfield High School in 2000, then spent a year at Hargrave Military Academy in Chatham, Va. He attended Maryland from 2001-2003, and he even scored the last basket ever at Cole Field House on March 3, 2002, when Maryland defeated Virginia, 112-92.
Collins then attended Loyola from 2004-2006. The 5-foot-11, 180-pound guard starred at Loyola in 2005-06, averaging 26.1 points, 4.7 assists, 3.6 rebounds and 2.4 steals per game for the Greyhounds, who were coached by former Terps assistant Jimmy Patsos. Collins then played in Europe until 2016.
Gary Williams, who coached Collins for three years at Maryland, applauded his former pupil’s efforts on the Eastern Shore.
“He’s seen the need for some guidance for some kids,” Williams said. “… He’s providing an opportunity for them not just in basketball, but to make sure they’re doing what they’re supposed to be doing to get an education, stay out of trouble. … Anything Andre can do in that environment is certainly a big help to his community.”
Appreciation for Collins’ work goes beyond Williams. Collins is close with his former AAU coach, Duane Coverdale. Coverdale always believed Collins would have a bright future. He said that Collins still calls him for advice, which only brings a smile to his face.
“He’s very passionate about what he does. He’s very, very passionate about his community down in Crisfield,” Coverdale said. “He loves his town. He wants to see things go well with it. I think he will be successful because he’s been successful in everything that he has taken seriously.”
Coverdale always emphasized to his players the importance of giving back to their community, and he is extremely proud of Collins for doing so.
“It doesn’t surprise me because that’s just who he is,” Coverdale said. “He’s always said he wanted to come back and help his community. … [We] especially instilled in our kids that when we become men to give back, to come back in and show your story, give back if you can and help better the community because at some point we’re going to get old and we’re not going to be able to do it anymore.”
Collins’ lifelong mentor, Tony Yates, has immense respect for Collins as well. The two met when Collins was in fifth grade. At the time, Yates was a student at Maryland Eastern Shore and volunteered at an after-school program offered by Somerset County. Yates took Collins under his wing, and the two have stayed close ever since.
“He’s always telling me, ‘Thank you for being there for me,'” Yates said. “I used to always tell him just help one kid, find one kid like I did. He’s done that by tenfold. It brings me joy.”
Collins continues to make those around him proud. Each time Collins walks into the gym, he sees each kid’s smile and determination. And that brings a smile to his face as he realizes the impact he has made on their lives.
“This is something that they can look at, as something that they could be inspired from, and the one thing that I love about it is [that] it just shows that anything is possible,” Collins said. “It shows if you work hard, you too could be a part of whatever it is that you want to be a part of and want to achieve.”
Photo Credits: Courtesy of Maryland Athletics and Andre Collins
Originally published Feb. 16, 2022