Three years ago, Zach Collins was a backup, albeit one heck of a backup, on his high school basketball team.
Last season, he came off Gonzaga’s bench behind Przemek Karnowski, who won the Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Award as the nation’s top center.
Thursday night, Collins will walk across the stage at the Barclays Center, likely as a lottery pick and pending multi-millionaire, and shake NBA commissioner Adam Silver’s hand, capping a meteoric rise in the basketball world.
“When I went to college, it was never thinking I’m going for one year and then jumping to the NBA,” Collins wrote in an article published on CBSlocal.com. “For me, it was just win, get better, grow as a person and as a player and whenever I felt like I was ready, that’s when I’d go. That just happened to be this year.”
Collins, the program’s first one-and-done player, will be in the green room with his family, Gonzaga assistant coach Brian Michaelson and other projected first-round picks.
Most draft gurus project Collins going in the 10-14 range, which would make him GU’s third lottery pick in five seasons, joining Kelly Olynyk (13th in 2013) and Domantas Sabonis (11th in 2016). Numerous mock drafts have Collins landing with Sacramento at No. 10.
NBA teams prize forwards/centers with athleticism, agility and the ability to operate in the post and on the perimeter. Collins possesses those attributes and figures to develop into an impact player at both ends of the court.
“I definitely think shooting will be a big part of my game,” Collins said after a recent workout with the Lakers. “A guy that can go in the post, shoot and drive is going to be hard to guard in the NBA.”
The 7-foot Collins is rated as the top center in the draft and the second best big behind Arizona’s Lauri Markkanen.
“He should go in the lottery,” an NBA executive said. “His toughness, footwork, post moves and shot-blocking ability are all intriguing as well as his age (19). He needs to be able to consistently stretch the floor.”
DraftExpress via YouTube
Collins swatted a team-high 69 shots, six in Gonzaga’s Final Four victory over South Carolina, and made 47.6 percent of his limited 3-point attempts. His 65.2 percent field-goal accuracy led the WCC.
Former Zag Jordan Mathews, who worked out for seven teams, was often asked about Collins by NBA personnel.
“I told them his intensity, his ability to make plays and move on to the next play is special,” Mathews said. “His ability to score the basketball hasn’t even begun to come out.”
Scouts generally offer high praise for Collins but are concerned by the “small sample size” from his freshman season. He was highly productive but averaged just 17.3 minutes.
Collins didn’t start until his senior season at Bishop Gorman but still became a McDonald’s All-American. He backed up Stephen Zimmerman (drafted by Orlando in 2016) and Chase Jeter (who transferred to Arizona from Duke after last season) on state-championship squads.
“I like that he competes at both ends,” said another NBA official. “I worry that he’s got to add strength. He had quite a few games in foul trouble.
“Like with most one-and-dones, he’s far from a finished product. He’s not a lock for a 15-year, star-studded career but if he lands in the right place he could really help somebody.”
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