When BYU comes to town on Saturday night, there will be a special atmosphere in Spokane, as Kevin Pangos and Gary Bell Jr. will play their final home games. While it will be an end of an era, a potentially key piece to the future of the Gonzaga program will be in attendance, as 2016 big man Zach Collins will take his final official visit.
Collins is a highly coveted big man, who has already taken visits to Cal, San Diego St., Utah and New Mexico. Heading in to the visit to Gonzaga, Zach's father, Mike, talked about some of the previous trips they have made.
"The biggest surprise so far on the visits was probably how family oriented San Diego St. was," Mike explained. "We didn't necessarily expect that. We also learned that San Diego St. really likes to use their bigs, but they don't necessarily have a big like Zach at this time."
We spoke with Mike prior to the season and one of the key discussion points was the relationship the family had developed with the Gonzaga staff. Not surprisingly, that relationship has continued to grow since then.
"It's only gotten better," revealed Zach's father. "Zach and the coaching staff literally talk every single day. I know it's their job, but they have really developed a great relationship with Zach."
"No other school has developed that relationship with Zach and we do have some very good relationship with other schools. We have great relationships with SDSU, Cal and New Mexico. Utah is still a bit fresh as they started recruiting Zach a bit later in the process, but with that said, they've made huge strides. When it comes to the relationship, I can say that Gonzaga's relationship with Zach is the closest."
Having already visited the campus unofficially, the Collins family is looking forward to getting a gameday experience in Spokane.
"The unofficial we took was extremely thorough," Mike said. "So a lot of stuff we would normally do on an official visit, we have already done. So this time we really want to experience the game and just be part of that culture. We are really excited to see The Kennel and Zombie Nation."
Like they have done with all of the schools on the list, Mike and Zach have paid close attention to Gonzaga this season.
"How tough they are," Mike said when asked to name what has stood out the most. "We were on a recruiting trip and they turned on the game against St. Mary's and right when we were watching, Gonzaga started marching back into the game. It was clear how tough and resilient they were and they have come together as a team."
"The other thing watching them is that they always have two bigs on the floor. Coming from Bishop Gorman, we have three of the best bigs in the nation, but it's hard to find a way to have two of them play well together. Gonzaga has found a way to do it, and in the past, New Mexico has found a way to do it as well."
The versatility of the Gonzaga big men, and how each fits into the puzzle on the team, is another quality that Collins has observed.
"It's interesting, because when Zach was on his unofficial, he had a chance to play with those guys and go against Kyle (Wiltjer)," Mike said with a laugh. "Then you see him on the big screen and he is just lighting it up. Maybe he doesn't have a 45-inch vertical, but he has 45 different ways he can score on you. Karnowski has such soft hands and has the ability to play defense without getting in significant foul trouble. Then you have Sabonis and he is just a wild animal on the court. His motor is running the entire time. They have three very different bigs, and I think that is by design."
The Gonzaga staff sees Zach Collins as the next in a long line of skilled bigs to have played in Spokane and the chance to replace a guy like Wiltjer or Sabonis is very enticing.
"It's one of the biggest factors," Mike said of the potential early playing time. "The reality is that Zach is in a situation in high school that is one of the most difficult in the country. He battles some of the top guys in the country everyday at practice, but because he is younger he has to take a back seat. He is learning lessons now that a lot of kids learn when they get to college, or even to the NBA. He wants a chance to go somewhere and have an impact, and not necessarily to learn these lessons again."
With this trip being the final official visit for Zach, a decision for the next stage of his career may not be far off.
"That's still the idea," Mike confirmed. "As good as the relationship is with all the coaches, we have been getting a lot of calls this week, as obviously everyone thinks Gonzaga is in the lead. We still have questions we want to sit and ask Coach Few. My wife and I want to sit across from him and ask the tough questions and get as much genuine feedback as we can. Ultimate though, the decision is Zach's and we will support him"