By Daniel Boyette
Decatur Daily Sports Writer

The position of basketball center has changed drastically during the past 60 years. Just ask Joe Collier. The starting center for Priceville's 1951 Class A state championship team and 1952 state runner-up squad, Collier has watched the evolution of the sport's big man, especially the increase in height. There weren't any 7-footers running around in Collier's day. He stood tall in the middle at 6-foot-3."T.R. Miller had a 6-foot-5 center, Joe White, and he was a handful to play," Collier said of his 1952 state title game foe."I don't remember playing against more than one or two players that were taller than me. In Morgan County, I think Lester Ralph, who played for Ryan, was maybe 6-4. Most everybody then, instead of playing the real physical-type games, we played games where you got the ball to somebody who could hit a jump shot or outside shot. And we did a lot of fast-break play."Collier viewed his role at center as that of a rebounder, not a scorer. Still, he averaged 15.5 points as a junior and 16.4 as senior. And that was without the benefit of something modern centers love to do.

"Back then, nobody dunked the ball," said Johnny Atkins, who as an eighth-grader watched Collier's senior season."I was a jump shot guy," Collier said. "I could jump shoot it as well as anybody." Atkins never forgot Collier's performances and nominated him for the Morgan County Sports Hall of Fame. Collier is one of six inductees to the 2012 class.

Because the games were less physical, defensive strategies could get creative."We were playing a game and coach (Rob Ryan) was saying, 'If the center is giving you a lot of problems, and you want to get into his mind a little bit, you can't push him around because you'll get a foul,' " Collier recalled. " 'But if you just reach out and pull the hair on the back of his leg every once and a while, he'll get nervous about it.' I don't remember every doing it, but it was an interesting concept."

More than just playing styles have changed since Collier was last on the court. In fact, most everything in the life of a basketball player is different. Collier and some of his teammates got to games by riding in the back of a small, flat-bed truck with the sideboards on and a tarp over the top. Practice was held for about an hour during physical education class because players had to work at home in the afternoons. To get extra practice time in, teammates got together on backyard dirt courts.

And then there were the gyms."A lot of the gymnasiums were heated by big, coal-burning stoves," Collier said.

"There'd be one on about the halfcourt line and one on each side of the gymnasium. We used to joke about going back and forth from one end to the other; you'd run over by the stove during games in the winter time in order to get a little warm."

Collier is the fourth starter from Priceville's two state finals teams to be inducted into the hall, joining Charles Livingston (2002) and brothers Don and Alfred Poole (2007). Ryan was inducted in 1996."I'm proud of that fact," said Collier, who has lobbied for a team recognition process in addition to individual honorees. "It's a good feeling to know that our team members all succeeded."

Collier had big games throughout Priceville's two postseason runs, earning all-state honors both years. He scored 13 points as the Bulldogs beat Isabella 61-44 in the first round of the 1950-51 state tournament, and followed with 15 points in a 51-48 win against Warrior and a game-high 20 — including 16 in the third quarter — of a 53-42 semifinal win against Hurtsboro. He had nine points in the Bulldogs' 49-45 comeback win against Curry in the championship game."We were coming back from the state tournament and stopped to get a drink at a store," Collier said. "I asked coach Ryan if I could get a Coke. He discouraged us from drinking Coca-Colas and stuff like that during the playing season. He told me to go right ahead."

Priceville returned to state the following year, but were without Alfred Poole, who had appendicitis. Don Poole then severely sprained his ankle in a first-round game against Baker and was hobbled for the remainder of the

tournament. Collier helped guide the short-handed Bulldogs back to the final, scoring 18 points in a 65-32 rout of Baker, hitting a free throw with 20 seconds left to ice a 39-36 victory against Corner and scoring 15 points — including a shot and two free throws down the stretch — of a 58-54 win against Pleasant Home in the semis. Playing with a cut under his eye after taking an elbow to the face, Collier had a team-high 18 points as Priceville fell 56-44 to undefeated T.R. Miller. "That was a good year, but we couldn't overcome the loss of players in that final," Collier said.

Collier went on to earn a degree in mechanical engineering at Auburn, where he was a member of the Tigers' freshman team. Collier also has an MBA. His professional career included work with Thiokol Chemical Corp., the U.S. Army Missile Command and Westinghouse Engineering Center. Collier and his wife, Judy, have been married 16 years.

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