BUTTE — After a close loss to Carroll College in the Frontier Conference tournament semifinals last season, Montana Tech forward Derrius Collins had no doubt about whether he would take advantage of his extra year of eligibility.
"We were all like 'No, I'm not losing to Carroll and going out like that,'" he said. "Everyone was like 'Alright, we gotta come back and try to do something special.'"
Collins and the Orediggers have followed through with that commitment.
A 9-1 start in conference play. Earning 20 overall wins before January concluded. And landing a spot in the NAIA rankings for the first time in program history.
This is clearly not the same team that Collins — a Missoula Hellgate product — joined in 2017 as a "really nervous and shy freshman."
"It's changed the program a lot," Collins said. "It's changed the program a lot. We've elevated a lot since I got here my freshman year. I wouldn't change it for the world."
With Tech slated to take on Montana Western for the second time this season on Thursday in Dillon, Collins isn't leading the Orediggers in any statistical category, though he is second on the team in steals and defensive rebounds.
He may not light up the scoreboard in the same way that teammates Sindou Diallo and Caleb Bellach are, but he brings plenty of energy, skill and optimism that has helped elevate Tech from a fledgling program to the top team in the Frontier as the final stretch of the regular season gets set to unfold.
"I don't really put up the numbers like that but, personally, day in and day out I try to hold all my teammates accountable," he said. " I try to do the little things that we need to do to win games. Just being a vocal leader and leading by example and talking at a high level is what I bring to the table."
A construction technology and management major, Collins isn't sure yet what's in store for him once he graduates from Tech this spring. But, looking back at the past five years, he knows he'll be grateful for his chapter as an Oredigger.
"I'm excited that I had the opportunity to come back," Collins said. "Family does sum it up. We're all brothers out here. I would do anything for these guys and hopefully they'd do the same for me."