Gonzaga has had three players participate in McDonald’s All-American games but all three started their collegiate careers elsewhere. GU recruit Zach Collins is about to change that.
Collins has been selected to the 12-player West roster for the McDonald’s All-American game March 30 at the United Center in Chicago. He would become the first in program history to participate in the prestigious prep game and join the Zags without first playing for another four-year school.
The 6-foot-11 center from Bishop Gorman High in Las Vegas is one of five in Gonzaga’s nationally ranked 2016 class, joining Chicago’s Zach Norvell, Denmark’s Jacob Larsen, France’s Killian Tillie and Japan’s Rui Hachimura.
Norvell, who is No. 81 on ESPN.com’s Top 100 rankings of the 2016 class, was nominated for the McDonald’s game but didn’t make the final roster.
Collins has climbed to No. 37 on ESPN’s Top 100. The Zags’ incoming class is ranked No. 19.
Senior forward Kyle Wiltjer, a transfer from Kentucky, had 11 points and two rebounds in the 2011 McDonald’s game. Micah Downs, who transferred from Kansas, had eight points and two boards in the 2005 game. Nigel Williams-Goss, who is sitting out this season after transferring from Washington, scored 10 points and had a team-high six assists in 2013. Williams-Goss also won the three-point shooting contest.
Collins averages 18 points and 14 rebounds for Bishop Gorman, essentially doubling his numbers from his junior season when he played behind center Stephen Zimmerman (now at UNLV) and forward Chase Jeter (Duke).
Collins committed to Gonzaga last March and signed in November. Mike Collins, Zach’s father and an assistant coach at Bishop Gorman, recently tweeted: “Have had several questions as to whether (Zach) would keep his commitment to Gonzaga-yes … BORN TO BE A ZAG!”
Redshirt sophomore center Ryan Edwards had perhaps the best showing of his young career Saturday against San Diego. In 14 minutes, he had 10 points, three rebounds, one assist and one block. He put up good numbers versus BYU on Thursday (six points and three rebounds in 18 minutes) but there were some noticeable slip-ups, too.
“Ryan kind of finally seemed like he got comfortable,” coach Mark Few said, “almost like the way he was playing his freshman year, getting to his go-to moves, did a nice job protecting the rim. If he can come in and give us that then we can rest (Wiltjer and Domantas Sabonis). In the past he hasn’t really been giving us that. That was big step for him.”
Along with Eric McClellan’s dunk, Wiltjer’s 15-foot jump hook and a Josh Perkins’ thread-the-needle assist on a Wiltjer layup, Edwards’ slick post move and left-handed hook was one of Saturday’s highlight reel plays.
“I had to bring out the hooks again,” said Edwards, who noted it helped to get into rhythm with increased minutes. “I haven’t had a good hook shot in a while. It felt good to finally get back out there and play my game.”
How can the 7-foot-1 native of Kalispell carve out consistent playing time?
“Rebound, be a big presence down low, whether scoring or doing a good job of rim protection,” Edwards said. “Everything, really, to help this team out.”
The Zags are down to eight scholarship players without Przemek Karnowski, who had season-ending back surgery, so they’re somewhat short-handed at practice. Walk-on guards Rem Bakamus, Dustin Triano and Jack Beach boost the numbers but Wiltjer has been limited recently due to a foot injury suffered against Santa Clara on Dec. 31.
It presents a balancing act for Few, who said he’s been running shorter practices to reduce the wear and tear on Wiltjer and Sabonis. Wiltjer averages a team-high 33.5 minutes. Sabonis and Perkins are next at 30.2.
The transfer trio of Williams-Goss, Johnathan Williams and Jeremy Jones become eligible next season. They participate in home practices but they don’t travel. Few said the numbers become a bigger concern on the road for shootarounds and between-games practices.
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