This March turned out to be a memorable month for the Gonzaga program. On the court, the Zags advanced to their first Elite 8 since 1999. Off the court, GU landed its most important prospect in the 2016 class, with talented big man, Zach Collins, making his commitment.
The reaction from family, friends and even opposing coaches has been incredibly strong for the Collins family, especially with Zach being such a strong fit for the offensive system.
"It's interesting, because Zach isn't a typical American big man," explained Mike Collins. "He is a European big that happens to be from America. When people found out he was committed to Gonzaga, there wasn't a person, including coaches from other schools, that didn't think it was the right place. Everyone consistently said they totally understood and got it. Zach is the type of player that fits at Gonzaga. He is really team-oriented and highly skilled and he doesn't worry about anything but winning."
Watching his future team make a run to the Elite 8 only helped reinforce the decision that the family had made.
"It makes you feel good about your choice," Mike said. "When we got down to the last three schools, we found ourselves rooting for each of them. We are family that watches the NBA, which isn't as common. A lot of people that I played with, and against, ended up in the NBA, so Zach and I have been watching it for a long time, so we never really had a team in college we rooted for. When you start getting recruited, you root for those teams. Once he was committed to Gonzaga, he was all in as a fan. We had friends and family members coming over in Gonzaga shirts, so it has been really cool."
The Gonzaga coaching staff identified Zach as a priority early in the process, and their evaluation appears to have been spot on, as the Las Vegas native has been dominant during the first evaluation period of the AAU season.
"I think it's really difficult being a more European type big when you are playing AAU," Mike explained. "You aren't jumping out of the gym or dunking every play. Instead, Zach is hitting 3's, or making cross-court passes from halfcourt. I watched him play against a lot of great players, and I know he is my son, but there is nothing like him on the adidas circuit right now. He is getting to do anything he wants on the court and it has been fun to watch."
With Zach having played in the shadow of guys like Chase Jeter and Stephen Zimmerman, it's been incredibly rewarding seeing him make his mark now that he has the opportunity to shine.
"It's been awesome," Mike said with a laugh. "He is out there and he is getting buckets. A lot of the stats that you might see on the computer aren't even close to what he is really doing out there. If you were to tell people who are watching him now that he only averaged 12 minutes a game last year, they'd think you are lying. To have him playing 30 minutes a game, it has fueled him to a completely different level. I've never seen him with a work ethic like this before."
Along with his play on the AAU circuit, Collins has also had the rare opportunity to represent the USA in a unique form on the court.
"He is at an age where it's an off year for the normal U-17 or U-19 tournaments," revealed the Las Vegas native. "We got a call from USA basketball, and they invited him out for this 3 vs. 3 tournament. It turns out they only invited four people from across the country. While it took a bit to adjust to the different style of game, Zach was dominant. He was hitting 3's and making the right pass. These four guys went out and played against some good competition, but they were at a completely different level."
Up next is the opportunity to represent the USA in Budapest against the top 3 vs 3 competition in the world.
"Russia is going to be there, Germany is going to be there and all the top teams as well. This will actually be a medaling sport in the summer Olympics after the next games. It's great to see him represent his country right after he committed to America's team. It's really cool. It's fun to watch and it's a different type of game that is really exciting."