With Nigel Williams-Goss and Jordan Mathews receiving well-warranted preseason attention at their respective positions, who thought a McDonald’s All American could fly under the radar coming into the season?
7 feet tall Zach Collins from Las Vegas is bringing a loaded skill set to a loaded Gonzaga team, which should allow the 18 year old a fertile environment to continue honing his game. Collins oozes talent with his finesse game and potential with his wide large frame that will allow him to grow into a powerful body in the paint.
The Bishop Gorman alum drew rave reviews throughout his senior season for not only his offensive abilities but also his coach-ability and work off the glass and on defense. Collins averaged 17.3 points, 14 rebounds and 6.4 blocked shots during his senior year, which saw him earning most valuable player in his league and the Nevada Gatorade Player of the Year.
Collins will remind many of Domantas Sabonis with his ability to rebound and pass with exceptional touch and court vision. Collins earned comparisons to Sabonis and former Consensus First-Team All-American Kelly Olynyk when he signed by the often expectation-tempering Mark Few. Indeed, Collins and Few’s offense are a match made in heaven, with the big’s ability to devastate opponents in a pick-and-pop style offense. Collins could grow to be a point forward similar to Olynyk when he becomes acclimated with the pacing and style of collegiate basketball.
What Collins offers that Sabonis and Olynyk did not is an athleticism that normally is not found with Gonzaga bigs. Collins broke the Nevada single-season record for most rebounds and blocked shots, and should offer a similar ability at this level. Sabonis played great front defense, but Collins has the size and length that Sabonis just was not gifted with.
In an offseason with plenty of familiar narratives, Collins is uncharted territory. The first McDonald’s All American commit, he is the embodiment of the program’s progress over 17 seasons in the NCAA tournament.
When Sabonis came to Gonzaga, he was a hidden gem that had national writers claiming his All-American level of play well after the recruiting season. Sabonis had played professionally up to his freshman season at Gonzaga and even then there were minor questions of how big of an impact he could have in his first year. Those questions do not seem readily apparent for Collins.
Few has never been shy in giving minutes to newcomers, and Collins should be no different. Collins may not be the first 7 footer to play for the Zags, but he is absolutely the first with his level of body control and movement. It took Olynyk an intensive redshirt season at the age of 20 to have the sort of body composure that Collins has showcased throughout his senior year of high school.
This is in no way a proclamation of Zach Collins as defacto Player of the Year and All-American his freshman year in college, but rather pointing to the fact that he is further along in the process of reaching his potential than any incoming big in the history of the program. Collins realistically could play all front court positions. Playing inside-out, he should be a brutal matchup in midrange and on the perimeter.
Collins should stretch defenses and make open lanes for slashers like Nigel Williams-Goss and cleared out keys for bigs like Przemek Karnowski. Collins still has plenty of room for growth when it comes to back-to-the-basket prototypical front court play, which will only make his multi-faceted game even more difficult to guard.
The Zags were fortunate to receive Collins’ verbal when they did. When he committed after his junior season, Collins was not seeing major minutes because of a loaded front court ahead of him (Collins played behind Orlando Magic’s Stephen Zimmerman and Duke’s Chase Jeter). Collins’ national profile skyrocketed during his senior campaign, well after the Zags secured him.
It is hard to temper expectations of the guy, seeing his efficiency in AAU and exhibition play with a style that normally does not mix well with the hero ball, isolation mentality found in high school and prep games. Collins’ emphasis on winning and team oriented basketball should prove to be a boon for the Zags as they have yet another option and piece to move deeper into March.