PARK CITY — Arriving in Toronto last month as a member of a new team in a different country wasn’t terrifying for Kyle Collinsworth.
Even as a late addition to the Toronto Raptors, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints member has leaned on his faith to endure much tougher challenges at a younger age.
His trust in a higher being was on display following Monday’s practice at the Park City Recreation Center, as the Raptors visited his home state on the eve of Tuesday’s preseason matchup against the Utah Jazz.
The former BYU product recently agreed to a partially guaranteed deal in Toronto, after spending last season in Dallas, but still has to fight for a spot.
Raptors coach Nick Nurse expects Collinsworth to get minutes versus the Jazz on Tuesday after receiving a DNP-Coach’s Decision in the opener against Portland.
He also holds belief he’ll stick around for the full season.
“Faith is a huge part. I’m a big believer in visualization and seeing things you want as if you already have them,” Collinsworth told the Deseret News. “So, that’s been a huge part of my career.
“Before I ever made it to the NBA, I was with the Mavericks last year, I visualized it and saw it over and over in my head and if you believe it, I believe you’ll receive it so faith is a huge part from a religious aspect and just for principles,” he added. “You’ve got to believe in yourself before others will.”
Collinsworth is one of the few practicing Mormons in the NBA.
His parents, Jeff and Alisa, introduced him to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints at a young age in Provo. As he matured in age, so did his Mormon faith.
New Orleans Pelicans’ Frank Jackson and Chicago Bulls’ Jabari Parker are also open with their religion, but Collinsworth took it a step farther, once sacrificing an early stretch of his college career to serve in the LDS Church's Russia Vladivostok Mission.
Following a solid freshman campaign at BYU in 2011, where he started in 20 of 24 games, Collinsworth traveled abroad for two years on a spiritual journey.
“You learn a lot,” Collinsworth recalled. “Over there you learn to forget about yourself and just to worry about others, which is a rare opportunity you get in a lifetime and also just to work hard. I worked so hard."
His days in Russia would start at 6:30 a.m., and he wouldn’t hit the bed until 10:30 p.m. It took him six months to learn the Russian language, but he stayed dedicated to his purpose of being over there and returned with the nickname “Big Russia,” which he still uses as his Twitter handle.
“The biggest thing is you teach people about Jesus Christ and our message about the gospel of Jesus Christ and we serve people,” Collinsworth described. “Whenever people need help, we go out and give service and make the place we’re in a better place and bring Christ into their life.”
Even with the time away from basketball, Collinsworth didn’t miss a beat once he suited back up for the Cougars. He earned a team captain spot, set the NCAA single-season record (six) and holds the NCAA career record with 12 triple-doubles while earning an NBA spot as an undrafted free agent. He is now teammates with former college rival Delon Wright of the University of Utah, who is helping him along the way.
“Honestly, I really didn’t feed too much into the (college) rivalry,” Wright said. “It was more of the people that were from here. I respect Kyle because when I was here, we always went at it versus each other and he led the NCAA history in triple-doubles so that was nice, and I’m just happy that we’re able to play on the same team.”
Nurse says both Wright and Collinsworth are “doing well” through training camp and preseason.
But for Collinsworth, the LDS faith is his backbone, and he’s proud to represent for the minority of Mormons in the league. Players can only respect him for that as he prepares to celebrate his 27th birthday on Wednesday.
“Guys know I served a mission, they know what I’m about and I kind of set my standard of my expectations early and after we eat, they go out and do their thing and I go back to the room so it’s just a mutual respect for both sides,” Collinsworth said. “The key is just setting a standard early of who I am and what I’m about. There’s always been phenomenal mutual respect between me and them, so it’s been great.”