Collin Sexton is an exuberant personality in the most relaxed of times.
So, the chances of him reining that in Tuesday — when he was making his long-awaited return from a nagging hamstring injury following an 18-game absence, when the Jazz were locked in a thrilling overtime duel with the Lakers — were negligible.
“We had to remind him that this morning was shootaround,” Will Hardy noted pregame. “He was going at a speed that everybody else was not.”
As for then actually finally getting out on the court …
“It was one of those games where I just had to let the adrenaline cool down a little bit,” Sexton noted afterward. “I was very, very excited all day to be back playing.”
Which wouldn’t necessarily be the case for every player in his position.
On the roster of a sub-.500 team, with four games remaining in the regular season — some would say why bother. Shut it down, call it good, don’t take a chance on getting re-injured, and just come back strong next season.
Collin Sexton, however, is not one of those types of people.
“We knew that Collin wanted to play, we had a ton of conversations with him about him wanting to play,” Hardy said. “And he would have played a week ago if we would have let him.”
Sexton confirmed as much postgame.
“I told everyone that I want to play it out,” he explained. “That’s just my character, that’s just who I am. And no matter what — it could be meaningful basketball, it could be meaningless — it doesn’t matter. I’ma go play no matter what.
“It’s important to me because I carry myself differently,” he added. “… I put the time and the work in. I’m like, ‘Alright, if I feel good and they give me the OK to play, I’m gonna play.”
So he did.
And he played well.
His coach confirmed pregame that the team would have him on a minutes restriction — ideally in the 16-18 range, but definitely no more than 20.
He was on the court for 15:43, attempted 14 shots, made seven of them, and finished with 15 points and three assists.
It wasn’t perfect — he shot 0 for 5 from 3-point range, and he acknowledged having a few defensive miscommunications while playing with Kris Dunn for the first time.
Still, he was going full speed. All. The. Time.
“Collin was Collin,” Talen Horton-Tucker explained, smiling. “Nothing’s changed, really. Still the same ‘Bull’ that you guys know.”
Including carrying on the habit of talking to himself while out on the court.
After one particular shot rolled around the rim a few times before finally dropping in, the Alabama product could be seen demonstratively exhorting himself. He said it’s something he picked up at an early age, when he and his brother were contributing to the family’s income by cleaning buildings at midnight or 1 a.m. — a job that was not particularly exciting, but necessary.
“It’s just pretty much to get myself going. I uplift myself a lot. … I’ve always been like that. It was something I gained growing up,” Sexton explained. “I had to encourage my brother and encourage myself: ‘Alright, come on — we’re tired, but we’ve gotta push through, we’ve got to do our job, do our portion.’ That’s where the encouragement came from. I wanted to be asleep, but I knew I gotta do what I had to do for my family.”
So yeah, it’s not particularly difficult for him to get psyched up about getting back to playing basketball.
As he mentioned, he was a bit too amped up at times, particularly in the hours leading up to the game, when he knew he’d be on the court for the first time since the Skills Challenge during All-Star weekend, but didn’t yet have an outlet for all that pent-up energy.
“It was tough. It was tough. Usually, I take a [pregame] nap, and I couldn’t take a nap today. So I was I was like, ‘I know I’m excited,’” he explained. “It was tough all day just to know, ‘OK, make sure you’re still level-headed, make sure you’re still poised. You don’t want to get too high, get too low.’ I tried to read just to keep me calm.”
Calm, however, was not his M.O. once the game was underway.
“It feels like he is just all competitiveness. He gives our team such a lift energy-wise. It is infectious, contagious, however you want to describe it,” said Hardy. “The guys love how he plays. … It’s the same Collin that we all know, and it’s the same Collin that we’ve missed for the last 18 games. So it was great to see him out there.”
For 15:43 anyway.
Did Sexton lobby to get a few extra minutes once the game was headed to overtime?
“If K.D. would have fouled out, I definitely [would’ve] went back in!” Sexton claimed, laughing. “The trainers were like, ‘We know we have a limit on your time, but if you feel good, we trust you.’ So I was like, ‘Alright, perfect.’ It didn’t come down to where he’d put me back in. But I definitely was itching. I was ready.”
Though Hardy appreciates Sexton’s enthusiasm more than anyone, he nevertheless walked back the definitely would’ve went back in assertion a bit.
“He got like one word out in that sentence,” the coach said, “and then I just turned around and walked away.”