From Big Skinny to Big Z: The 20-pound transformation of Zach Collins

From Big Skinny to Big Z: The 20-pound transformation of Zach Collins

When Zach Collins first stepped foot into the Trail Blazers’ practice facility as a rookie last summer, the 7-footer said he weighed 220 pounds. 

To his teammates, he became “The Big Skinny” – a respectful, but playful jibe on his lanky build.

One year later, the talk about Collins around the team has changed. 

“I call him Big Z,’’ Wade Baldwin said. “Everybody calls him Big Skinny, but I like to boost his confidence and call him Big Z.’’

It’s not just a ploy to boost confidence, though. There’s more than a little bit of truth to a Big Z moniker.

Collins today says he is consistently registering 240 pounds on the scale, meaning he has put on 20 pounds since his rookie season. He says he arrived in Portland at 220, started last season at 228, then got as high as 234. 

“I've put on 5-to-7 pounds since the end of the season. It’s crazy, yeah,’’ Collins said. “It’s crazy.’’

Of all the to-do items for the Blazers’ future, Collins adding size and strength was chief among them. Throughout a solid rookie season, when he averaged 4.4 points and 3.3 rebounds in 16 minutes, talk of Collins was usually couched by that faraway date when he would add size.

But after an accelerated summer regimen, the future appears to be now, as evidenced by what has become a pronounced chest and thicker arms.

“Everything is just a little bit more solid,’’ Collins said. “I just know I feel stronger in everything I do.’’

He knew he would be able to put on weight, in part because he says he has always loved the weight room because it eliminates outside elements. 

On the court, he has to think about guarding his man, helping teammates on defense, making the right passes and having the correct shooting form. But in the weight room, it’s just him and the weights.

“I like the simplicity of that; it’s all about how hard you want to work,’’ Collins said. 

His new body will be on display at the Las Vegas Summer League, where the Blazers begin play Saturday against Utah. Collins, who broke his nose colliding with teammate Caleb Swanigan in Tuesday’s practice, will be wearing a plastic mask during the games. 

His improved frame couldn’t have come at a better time for the Blazers, a point that was driven home by a chance encounter with Neil Olshey, the team’s top executive.

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The day after the Blazers were swept by New Orleans, Collins said Olshey and the coaching staff noted that they envisioned him becoming more of an interior post man next season.

Collins said he went home to Las Vegas and took about three weeks off. When he returned to the practice facility for his return to training, he ran into Olshey outside the team’s locker room.

“Neil stopped me outside the locker room and told me he wanted to get me playing with my back to the basket more,’’ Collins said. “That he wanted me to get my game more inside-out.’’

For Collins, it was music to his ears. 

“That’s how I’ve been playing all my life,’’ he said. “Last year was a little bit of a different role.’’

Last year, he played mostly alongside Ed Davis, and Collins would work on the perimeter while Davis set picks and dove toward the basket. Nearly half of his shots last season were from 16 feet and beyond.

“I think getting a rhythm closer to the basket and being able to see the ball go in a little bit more, rather than coming into the game and having to fire up perimeter shots will be good for me,’’ Collins said. “I’m comfortable doing that and looking forward to that being more a part of my game this year.’’

 

**

To be effective inside in today’s NBA game, you have to be strong and explosive. 

For as much toughness Collins showed last season – a factor that earned him unwavering respect from the veterans – he did have a tendency to lose the ball on contact, or get pushed out of position. 

And that’s where the Blazers’ five-day-a-week weight lifting program has come into play. It’s not just dumbbells and bench presses, but more core strengthening, explosion drills and balance work.  

“It’s all about lifting the right way,’’ Collins said. “Especially nowadays. Everybody is so athletic, everybody is so strong and explosive. Especially for big guys. There’s not a lot  of back-to-the-basket bigs, but they are still out there. There are still bigs who can overpower you.’’

Collins, though, says his weight lifting is not just to hold his ground. He found last season that absorbing contact against stronger opponents took a toll on his body.

“That’s one reason why the weight room is important – to stay healthy,’’ Collins said. “If you are light, you can bang as much as you want, but you are going to break down, just because you aren’t strong enough.’’

Today, teammates chuckle when they think of the gangly rookie from last year. They joke that Collins is now all about tank tops and short sleeves that show off his muscles. 

Collins, though, says his body isn’t the only thing improved. For the first time in two years, he will be returning to the same team. From Bishop Gorman High in Las Vegas to Gonzaga to Portland, he has felt like he’s been caught in a whirlwind of change. 

Now, as his body changes, his mind can rest easier.

“I tell people all the time that I’m really excited for next year because the last two years I’ve had to learn everything on the go,’’ Collins said. “From being a freshman at GU to being a rookie here. Now I get to come back and I kind of know what to expect. I can already feel it in Summer League. Like, I already know what spots to go to, where I want the ball.  So, I’m excited for that.’’

Tenth Annual Trail Blazers Coat Drive: Giving back to the community

Tenth Annual Trail Blazers Coat Drive: Giving back to the community

The Portland Trail Blazers and Fred Meyer have teamed up for their tenth annual coat drive this December.

Trail Blazers fans are asked to fill donation bins at all participating Fred Meyers with new or gently used coats which will then be distributed to the Portland-Metro Boys and Girls Clubs.  

Over the weekend, Trail Blazers shooting guard Gary Trent Jr. helped 30 kids from the Portland-Metro Boys and Girls Clubs shop for new winter coats at the Fred Meyer in Beaverton.

We’re here to give back to the community. Fred Meyer, the Portland Trail Blazers, the Portland Trail Blazers’ Boys and Girls Club is here. I had the opportunity to come out with the kids, sign autographs, help them pick out warm coats for the wintertime and it’s a great thing. I’m blessed and I’m fortunate that I’m here.  -- Trail Blazers shooting guard Gary Trent Jr.

Not only did Trent Jr. go shopping with the kids to make sure all thirty kids received a winter coat, he also took time to take photos, shoot hoops, and draw pictures with the youngsters. 

Marlene Ascencio, the Director of the Portland-Metro Boys and Girls Clubs, explained the goal of Saturday's event was for all thirty members to go home with a brand new winter coat.

“Most of the kids that we serve are from low-income households or they just don’t have enough resources to purchase new winter coats… We have been doing this partnership between Fred Meyer and the Portland Trail Blazers for 10 years, we just want to say thank you so much for all of the support,” Ascencio said.  

Rehab update: Jusuf Nurkic running stairs in the Mile High City

Rehab update: Jusuf Nurkic running stairs in the Mile High City

While local Denver media, national media and reporters from Portland geared up to talk with Carmelo Anthony about his return to the Mile High City, off in the distance was a welcomed surprise.

After Thursday morning’s shootaround wrapped up, Trail Blazers center Jusuf Nurkic (left leg) was seen running two sets of stairs with Trail Blazers Sports and Performance Specialist Todd Forcier.    

The big fella was going hard. It wasn’t as if he was lightly jogging up the stairs.

And to think he’s getting his rehab and cardio in at the high altitude.

Nurkic was in good spirits after running the stairs. He was smiling and joking with his teammates as beads of sweat dripped down his face.

There is still no official timeline on Nurkic’s return. He had surgery in late March to repair a fractured tibia and fibula that he sustained versus the Brooklyn Nets. 

There has been some speculation that Nurkic could be back to the court as soon as January.

And after watching him run the Pepsi Center’s stairs Thursday, it looks like there might be some truth to that speculation. 

Rodney Hood sends heartfelt message to Rip City

Rodney Hood sends heartfelt message to Rip City

The Blazers were dealt a tough blow last week when starting small forward Rodney Hood went down with an injury against the Lakers. He left in the first quarter and would not return. It was later concluded that Hood had torn his left Achilles and would be out for the season.

Hood, the team, and the fans got a bit of good news on Wednesday - Hood underwent successful surgery to repair the injury. It was the first step in a long road to recovery. 

Following surgery, Hood took to social media to thank Blazers fans for all the love and support they have sent his way.

From the bottom of my heart, I would like to thank everyone who sent prayers up for me. Today was a successful surgery and I’m excited about this process. Every text, call, post, edible arrangement, etc meant the world to me! The support has been unreal. One thing I’ve never done is ask Why. I know I’m built to get through this. All positive vibes this way! - Rodney Hood

Thousands of fans liked the post, and many of his NBA brothers reached out via Instagram to send their wishes his way. Kevin Love, Tristan Thompson, Jahlil Okafor, Baron Davis, Quinn Cook, Jeff Green, Robert Covington, and Elfrid Payton were just a few of the past and present NBA stars that sent him love. 

No timetable has been set for Hood's recovery, but regardless of how long it takes Rip City will keep sending him love. He can certainly feel it, and on Wednesday he made sure to send it right back.

Rodney Hood undergoes successful surgery to repair torn Achilles

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USA Today Images

Rodney Hood undergoes successful surgery to repair torn Achilles

The Portland Trail Blazers announced Wednesday, veteran wing Rodney Hood has undergone successful surgery to repair his ruptured left Achilles tendon.

The surgery was performed by Dr. Richard Ferkel at the Southern California Orthopedic Institute earlier today.

It was on December 6th in the Blazers loss to the Lakers when Hood suffered the injury at the 3:27 mark of the first quarter

As of right now, the Blazers are saying there is no timetable for Hood’s return to basketball activity.

[RELATED]: Fans and NBA players send their love to Rodney Hood 

This season in 21 games, the 27-year-old averaged 11.0 points 3.4 rebounds, and 1.5 assists in 29.5 minutes per game.

Hood was having one of the best seasons of his career.  

His shooting percentage (50.6%), along with his three-point shooting percentage (49.3%) and rebounding average were all career highs.

 

CJ McCollum: Melo going to those other teams was “a blessing in disguise”

CJ McCollum: Melo going to those other teams was “a blessing in disguise”

Earlier this season, the Portland Trail Blazers signed Carmelo Anthony to a non-guaranteed, 1-year deal to upgrade their wing rotation. After a few weeks and one Western Conference Player of the Week Award later, the Blazers fully guaranteed his contract. 

But this wasn’t Melo’s first chance to play in a Blazers jersey. Trail Blazers stars Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum have both gone on the record in prior offseasons to recruit the four-time gold medalist to Portland

McCollum recently joined Yahoo! Sports NBA Insider Chris Haynes' Posted Up Podcast where Melo was discussed.

CJ talked about what Melo has brought to the team and how him passing up the Blazers in the past was “a blessing in disguise” for him.

I told him ‘you going to [Oklahoma City and Houston] was a blessing in disguise for you.’ Because your understanding and appreciation for the game changed. He had time to be with his family, he got invaluable time with his son....He had a full year to workout and spend time with his kid and kind of like reflect on life, and I think his appreciation of the game shifted, it changed, the way he plays now you can see he’s excited about the game.

Anthony is averaging 15.9 points per game and 5.6 rebounds in eleven games played for the Trail Blazers. His scoring and shooting ability has provided additional spacing on the floor for Lillard and McCollum to operate. He has also played with excellent energy following a season away from the game. 

Now with the season-ending injury to starting small forward Rodney Hood, Anthony will be called upon to an even greater extent for offensive production. Good thing his legs are fresh. 

The Portland Trail Blazers (10-15) continue their season Thursday night on the road against the Denver Nuggets (14-8) at 7:30pm PST

What a win vs. Denver can mean for the Trail Blazers' psyche

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USA Today Images

What a win vs. Denver can mean for the Trail Blazers' psyche

The Trail Blazers have played a total of 25 games.

Of those 25, the Blazers have won 10.

Of those 10, the Blazers have just ONE win over a team with a winning record. (That was against the Dallas Mavericks on October 27th when Portland still had a healthy Zach Collins for three quarters of the game.)

That could change on Thursday night in Denver.

But it won’t be easy.

The Nuggets are currently 14-8 on the season, which puts them fifth in the Western Conference standings.

The good news for the Blazers: The Nuggets have lost five of their last six.

After easily defeating the New York Knicks Tuesday night, 115- 87, the Trail Blazers felt good about blowing out a team they were expected to blow out.  

“It’s good to have wins like this because it’s a team that we desire to beat, a team that is inferior to us, we want to go out there and take care of business and we did exactly that,” Kent Bazemore said Tuesday night.

Now as the Blazers shift their focus to Nikola Jokic and the Nuggets, former Denver Nugget Carmelo Anthony offered up his thoughts on how significant it would be for the Blazers to come away with a win in the Mile High City.

It’s definitely an important game, being in the same conference, knowing what we’re trying to accomplish. You know those guys are coming in with a loss tonight, so I’m sure they’ll be ready in front of their home crowd. This will be a good one for us to go get on the road. -- Trail Blazers forward Carmelo Anthony  

Portland’s head coach Terry Stotts gave his opinion on Thursday’s matchup:

“They’re the same team that we played in the playoffs; we are not the same team, so it’ll be different. They are a good team. They are the same team that took us to game seven and they are at their place so it will be a challenge.”

As of Thursday morning, the Trail Blazers were three games out of the eighth and final playoff spot in the West.

The last the time Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum played in Denver was in their Game 7 victory back on May 12th, using that nostalgia could provide just enough boost for the Blazers to hand the Nuggets their third straight loss.
The Blazers know they are going to need to slow down Nikola Jokic.

Jokic is averaging 16 points, 10 rebounds, and 6.3 assists per game.

In Portland and Denver's first meeting of the season, which also happened to be the Blazers regular season opener, Jokic had 20 points and 13 rebounds despite getting into early foul trouble.

In the loss, Damian Lillard led the Blazers with 32 points and eight assists, while Hassan Whiteside had 16 points and 19 rebounds in his debut as a Trail Blazer.

This is a must for Whiteside on Thursday:

The 7-footer will have to do his best to get a hand in Jokic’s face when the Joker is out on the three-point line.

The Blazers tip-off their two-game, six-day trip, at 7:30pm PT Thursday.

Jaylen Hoard transferred to Texas Legends

Jaylen Hoard transferred to Texas Legends

PORTLAND, Ore. (December 11, 2019) – The Portland Trail Blazers have completed the two-way transfer of forward Jaylen Hoard to the Texas Legends of the NBA G League, it was announced today by president of basketball operations Neil Olshey. 

In five games with the Trail Blazers this season, Hoard, 20, has averaged 1.4 points (50.0% FG, 50.0% FT), 1.4 rebounds and 0.4 assists. Hoard (6-8, 215) has appeared in four games with the Legends, posting averages of 17.8 points (55.8% FG, 53.8% FT), 6.8 rebounds and 1.3 assists.

For those who loved ‘License to Lillard’, another series called ’Dame Time’ is coming soon

For those who loved ‘License to Lillard’, another series called ’Dame Time’ is coming soon

For those of you who loved the five episode series ‘License to Lillard’ (that can be found on YouTube), another series on Portland Trail Blazers star Damian Lillard is in the works.

It’s called ‘Dame Time’ and is produced by Adidas Hoops.

‘License to Lillard’ took a dive into the mind, tactics and life of Damian Lillard. From overcoming a foot injury, his collegiate career at Weber State and where it all started in middle school to becoming a first round draft pick and NBA All-Star with the Portland Trail Blazers. It captures the small details of Lillard’s game: how he breathes, 

You can find all the episodes on YouTube.

License to Lillard, Episode 1: The Beginning

License to Lillard, Episode 2: Building Blocks

License to Lillard, Episode 3: The Draft

License to Lillard, Episode 4: Orientation

License to Lillard, Episode 5: Rookie Debut

Who knows what this new series will have in store. Becoming a father? Reliving ‘The Bad Shot’ that sent chaos into the league? His life in Portland? What we do know is that if it's anything like the previous series, it will be very, very cool.

Damian Lillard to be inducted into Big Sky Hall of Fame

Damian Lillard to be inducted into Big Sky Hall of Fame

The Big Sky will induct its very first class into the conference's Hall of Fame early next season, and one very familiar name is on the list. 

14 Big Sky legends will make up the inaugural class, but perhaps none has more meaning here in Portland than former Weber State star Damian Lillard.

Lillard is one of the best players in Weber State history. He was the nation's second-leading scorer during his final season, averaging 24.5 points per game - a Wildcats record. 

During his time in the Big Sky, he was named conference MVP twice, was a three-time conference First-Team selection, and was named Freshman of the Year in 2009. He is also the only player in Big Sky history to earn All-American honors.
 
Despite the accolades, not a lot was known about Lillard outside of Ogden. 

That all changed in the summer of 2012 when the Portland Trail Blazers selected Lillard with the sixth overall pick in the 2012 NBA Draft. He wasted no time making a statement on the game's biggest stage, winning the 2013 NBA Rookie of the Year award. 

Now in his eighth season with the Blazers, Lillard is a four-time NBA All-Star, four-time All-NBA selection and is the franchise's all-time leader in three-pointers made (1583), and second only to Clyde Drexler in points scored (13,527).

The Big Sky Hall of Fame ceremony will be held on Saturday, March 14th in Boise, Idaho.