CORVALLIS — Although it is embraced more and more in college basketball, the term "sixth man'' doesn't have the greatest connotation. It implies there are probably five guys better.
That's not the case at Oregon State, though, where coach Craig Robinson is bringing forward Devon Collier off the bench.
Collier is not your typical sixth man, in his game or his production.The 6-foot-8 junior from the Bronx, N.Y., is second on the team in scoring (14.5 points), tied for 11th in the Pac-12, and is getting 25.1 minutes per game.
"I can't sulk and be disappointed I'm sixth man, I've just got to make the best of it,'' Collier said. "I'm getting plenty of minutes.''
Collier can take solace in the fact that Dion Waiters was Syracuse's sixth man last season, and now he's starting for the NBA's Cleveland Cavaliers. Indiana brings Will Sheehey off the bench. It's becoming more common for coaches to bring not only better players but bigger players off the bench.
It's a bit of a departure for Robinson, who in the past has brought Calvin Haynes or Lathen Wallace or Roberto Nelson — all guards — off the bench. It's nice to bring a guy in whose shot has to travel two feet instead of 20.
"I really feel that Devon does better when he can see what kind of game is going on before he gets in, so I think coming off the bench is helping him,'' Robinson said. "He may disagree."
"But when you're as prolific in the low post as Devon is, if he's starting the game from the jump, he is double-teamed or triple-teamed. If he is coming off the bench, there have been some other guys who have gotten going so he doesn't have to go right away. Then he can kind of wait to pick and choose his spots.''
Collier's game is all about the spots. Few players are better at working his way to the basket without the ball and putting it in once he gets it. It's as if opposing teams never figure out he's left-handed. Collier's 56.7 percent shooting ranks seventh in the league and is actually down from last season, when he led the Pac-12 at 61.5 percent.
Whether there will be any good spots tonight against Arizona State (13-2, 2-0 Pac-12), we shall see. The Sun Devils sport 7-foot-2 big man Jordan Bachynski, who is averaging an eye-popping 4.6 blocked shots per game.
Chances are, Collier will get an early crack at Bachynski. As a sixth man, his role is unusual. Most either put up shots for instant offense or bring defensive energy. Collier's role is to find those spots, and that's what he looks for during his down time.
"Scoring is hard to do when you first come into the game and you've been sitting for a while and everybody else is warmed up,'' Robinson said. "That's a real art form — especially for a guy who's not coming in just to take wide-open shots.''
The man who makes Collier's art possible is freshman forward Jarmal Reid.
As Robinson searches for depth on his team, he is perfectly content to start the game with Reid because of his defensive qualities. With Ahmad Starks and Nelson on the floor, Robinson figures, he doesn't need Reid to score.With an in-progress shot and high basketball IQ, Reid can guard a variety of positions — maybe even all five — for the Beavers (10-4, 0-1).
"I think he can guard a point guard,'' Robinson said of Reid. "When I see him able to stay in front of Ahmad, for small periods of time, it's impressive.''
Against Oregon on Sunday night, Reid played 14 scoreless minutes, down from his usual 20 or so. Collier's offense was needed. Answering a 15-2 run by the Ducks to start the second half, Collier scored seven quick points, but the Beavers went away from his inside game and lost 79-66.
Oregon coach Dana Altman probably breathed a sigh of relief. Altman, too, is going to a bigger body and bigger role in his sixth man, Carlos Emory, a physical wing who can score inside and outside.
"It's one of those ego things,'' the no-nonsense Altman said. "You get your name announced and you run out and jump up and down. But it's more important that you get minutes, and where those minutes are."
Collier may not be fully embracing the role, or raising it to an art form, but he's making it work.
"Not everyone who has been a starter can come off the bench,'' Robinson said. "He's shown that he's been able to go from a starter to being a significant sixth man. It seems to be working."