Having developed her game and voice, Charli Collier is set for her last chapter at Texas
Charli Collier can see into her future.
She expects to be playing professionally soon. The Texas star has already declared for next month's WNBA draft. Some have predicted that the 6-5 junior will be the first pick.
The aspiring broadcaster wants to work at ESPN one day, but don’t pigeonhole her into a role as a women’s basketball analyst. “I love football,” Collier said.
As for the next few weeks? Starting with Monday's matchup against Bradley to open UT’s 33rd all-time NCAA Tournament appearance, she is confident that the Longhorns will be playing for a while.
"I'm packing for six games, it's so many clothes in there,” Collier said last week. "I'm just focused right now on this basketball season. I know everybody wants to talk about draft day, all this other stuff, training camp, but this is my sole focus right now."
While often facing multiple defenders this season, Collier is averaging 20.1 points and 11.7 rebounds. Her scoring average is the sixth-best mark in Texas program history. Only Retha Swindell’s 15.5 and 11.9 rebounding averages during the 1976-77 and 1977-78 seasons outrank Collier’s numbers this year.
As a sophomore, Collier became the fourth Texas player to average a double-double over the course of a season. Now she and Swindell will be the only Longhorns to do that twice.
Last week, Collier earned All-American accolades from the Associated Press. A second-team honoree, she's UT’s first AP All-American in 14 years and the fifth Longhorn to be so recognized since 1995.
"It's really amazing what she's been able to do," Texas coach Vic Schaefer said. "It's so hard to do at this level against the quality of competition and the quality of coaching that we go against every night."
Collier is one of 47 UT women's players to score 1,000 career points. Her career rebounding average of 8.6 ranks in the top five.
Such success was likely expected out of a player who was the No. 2 overall prospect in her recruiting class. But Collier’s collegiate career got off to a slow start. She started just once as a freshman and logged 14.4 minutes per game that season. Admittedly, she contemplated transferring.
After numerous talks with then-coach Karen Aston and her mother, Collier stayed. Due to the dual credits she had gained in high school, she was still on track to graduate after her junior year. She also knew there were still things she could do to get stronger and better.
"I feel like (transferring) wasn't the road I was supposed to take," Collier said. "I was supposed to sit down on the bench to see. Obviously it worked out how it was supposed to."
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Collier went to work and made a jump the following season. As a sophomore, she led Texas in scoring and rebounding and earned all-conference honors.
The 2019-20 season, however, was cut short by the pandemic. And then last April, Aston's eight-year run at Texas ended and Schaefer was hired from Mississippi State.
Back in the Houston area, Collier continued to hone her craft with the few people outside of the UT circle that she likes to "mess with in the summer." Both Warren Randle, who has worked as Collier's strength and conditioning coach for a half-dozen years, and Mike Mitchell, who specializes in player development, marveled at Collier's work ethic.
"I tried to tell people this, throughout a three to four month span of going, there were no call outs, there were no, 'Hey, something came up.' There weren't any of those days for the summer," Mitchell said. "She was totally aware with what she was trying to do."
Added Randle: "I think it was something there, a point to prove."
Collier has led Texas to an 18-9 record this season. The 44 points she scored against North Texas in November was the fourth-best game in school history. In January, she recorded Texas' first 20-point, 20-rebound game since 2012.
Off the court, she was just as busy.
During the spring, Collier was among the athletes who set up online fundraisers to help those impacted by the pandemic. She raised more than $2,500 for non-profit organizations in Houston and her hometown of Baytown. Last month, she footed the bill for 50 pizzas at Roppolo's Pizzeria — which ran her about $530 — to feed anyone who needed a meal in the aftermath of the state's winter storms.
"I feel like that has more of an impact than what I'm doing now," said Michael Huff, the former UT football player who himself fed dozens of Texas families. "For her to be that young and doing all of this while still going through everything I went through (in college), my hat's off to her."
Late last year, Collier and her friend Caitlin Smith launched an Internet series that secured interviews with basketball players Myles Turner and Jada Williams. Her one-on-one chat with Kevin Durant has been viewed nearly 50,000 times.
Like many college athletes, Collier has realized the worth and power of her voice. She said her mother, Ponda, and late father, Elliott, often preached about the importance of representing her family and making sure her name is mentioned for the right reasons.
"That's when I really realized my name really held weight," Collier said. "When you're in the spotlight or you're in the limelight, you're going to be critiqued for everything you do, good or bad."
Soon, Collier will step into the WNBA spotlight. She's preparing for her final games as a Longhorn.
If it's up to Collier, her time at Texas will wrap up later rather than sooner. Like her namesake, the fictional assassin Charly Baltimore from the 1996 movie "The Long Kiss Goodnight," Collier hopes that she and the Longhorns can take out as many foes as possible in the upcoming weeks. That mission starts Monday against Bradley.
Collier recently told reporters that she didn't feel any pressure as Texas gets ready for the postseason. Her future is set. She's free to just focus on her present.
"I'm just going to enjoy this last go-around with my team," Collier said. "I feel free. I feel like a senior."