Photograph: Jeff Sciortino

Crane High School’s Sherron Collins

Inked on Sherron Collins’s sinewy left arm, a tattoo reads “CAUTION: DO NOT REACH.” It serves as a warning to defenders who dare to invade the space of the Crane High School point guard, a power-packed player who achieves great heights on the basketball court despite his 5-foot 11-inch frame.

At 18, Collins is widely considered the state’s number one high-school point guard, and, after some heavy recruiting by Illinois and others, he heads for the basketball powerhouse Kansas next fall. This spring, his ability-as well as skills of other local standouts, including Simeon’s Derrick Rose and Glenbrook North’s Jon Scheyer-are on display at the Illinois High School Association state tournament, which runs through March 18th. Collins’s West Side school is favored to qualify for the tournament’s Elite Eight in Peoria for the second consecutive season.

From his ankle-twisting crossover dribble to his knee-locking pull-up jumper, Collins is entertaining to watch, partly because of the banter he elicits from his opponents. “There are a lot of trash-talkers,” he says. “It gets me going. It makes me want to beat you even more.”

Raised on the North Side, Collins found his sport while playing ball in the Boys and Girls Club at the Chicago Housing Authority’s Lathrop Homes. There, he played against bigger, better, older kids, and earned the reputation he carries today-as a player who doesn’t back down. In a recent game against Hyde Park High School, the cement-solid Collins consistently charged through a maze of defenders, without losing his handle on the ball, to score 28 points.

Off the court, Collins softens when he talks about his uncle, Walter Harris, who recently received a lifesaving liver transplant. “He’s my motivation,” Collins says of Harris, a father figure. But on the court it is the former Crane standout guard Will Bynum, who played at Arizona and Georgia Tech and now plays in the NBA’s developmental league, who counsels the young athlete. “He’s been through all this,” Collins says. “He tells me, ‘No outside distractions,’ and ‘Don’t get bigheaded. Stay true to yourself and play the game.'” These lessons are reflected, too, in a cross-shaped tattoo that says: “ONLY GOD CAN JUDGE ME.”