As the three point shot and small ball have taken over the sport of basketball, more and more college teams are straying away from from banging the ball down-low in the post, but that is not the case at UC Irvine. The Anteaters have a trio of true back to the basket big men in 6’8 Tommy Rutherford, 6’11 Brad Greene, and 6’9 Collin Welp. The former two start, but the most talented of the three is Welp, who comes off the bench and provides instant offense for the Anteaters.
I got a chance to see the red shirt Sophomore from Seattle, Washington, play in person during the Anteaters 59-58 loss at TCU on Thursday night. Welp, who is listed at 6’9, but looks taller than that in person, made his presence felt right away when he entered the game. The Anteaters like to run a lot of their offense out of the post, so Welp was getting touches down low early and often. He’s very strong with the basketball, has an impressive array of moves that he uses to get his shot off, and has the ability to finish at the rim with both hands.
As mentioned, Welp has a really soft touch down-low but he can also stretch it out a little bit and knock down mid range jumpers. He’s not a guy that you want to send to the line if you can’t stop him, as he made 74% of his free throws as a freshman and is on pace to shoot around 80% this season.
During UC Irvine’s historic 31 win season a year ago, Welp only played 16 minutes per game, but made the most of his time on the court as he was the team’s third leading scorer at 8.6 points points per game while also chipping in with 4.3 rebounds. With the Anteaters’ starting back-court and top two scorers from last year’s NCAA tournament team both gone, the team is playing to their strengths and using their plethora of size to their advantage, so Welp’s role will significantly expand this season. Coming off the bench doesn’t seem to bother Welp, and it helps energize the team and gives the offense an instant boost.
He’s making most of his increased minutes so far, posting a team high 14 points in the Anteaters loss at TCU and following that up with an 11 point, 18 rebound outing versus Detroit Mercy.
While Welp’s size and scoring ability are the obvious traits that make him an exciting player, what intrigues me the most about him is his high basketball IQ. When you watch him operate in the post, you can see that he attacks the rim in a reactionary manner rather than making pre-determined moves, as he waits to see how the defender plays him before figuring out what’s the best way to go get his shot off or find an open teammate. That style of play can only be done by guys that have multiple post moves, can finish with both hands, pass out of the post, and have very high offensive awareness and feel for the game.
One of the most impressive plays I saw from Welp during the TCU game came on a play that didn’t show up in his stat line. Welp had good position in the post while one of his teammates started to drive and had half a step on his man, and when Welp realized his teammate had a lane, he turned and sealed off his defender to prevent any help defense from coming and created a lane for his teammate to convert an easy layup.
His high level awareness and IQ were on display on the defensive end of the floor as well during the TCU game, as he spent most of the time guarding shorter, quicker players. The Horned Frogs tried to exploit the speed advantage they had on Welp several times, but he held his ground and was able to stay in front of his man using his size and stellar footwork and anticipation.
While UC Irvine looks like they won’t match last season’s success and will likely spend this year off the radar of the national college basketball scene, they still have some talent on the roster and the potential to return to the NCAA tournament down the road. If you’re a fan of college basketball, don’t forget about the Anteaters and remember the name Collin Welp as the future looks very bright for this young man.