The 2017 NBA draft initially had a handful of Trail Blazers fans scratching their head after the Trail Blazers had facilitated a trade with the Sacramento Kings for Gonzaga big man Zach Collins, who was selected 10th overall by the Kings.
How could a freshman that came off the bench in college be a No. 10 pick? Is this Collins kid just another 7-footer that only shoots the three?
Those types of questions were all over social media.
Since draft day on June 22, 2017, Collins has answered the call and answered those questions in just 146 career games.
Collins quickly made a name for himself as a defensive-minded big.
The 2019-20 season didn’t pan out how Collins and the Trail Blazers would’ve hoped with Collins suffering a shoulder injury in the third game of the season.
Collins joined Trail Blazers Courtside with hosts Michael Holton and Jordan Kent this week to discuss how his college days at Gonzaga helped prepare him for the NBA. But, he also mentioned that there was one change he would’ve made during his one year in Spokane.
Coming off the bench, Collins averaged 17.2 minutes per game while shooting an efficient 65.2 percent from the floor during Gonzaga’s 2016-17 season, which ended in a loss in the National Championship game against North Carolina.
That was Gonzaga's first and only appearance in the NCAA National Championship game.
It was a game that Collins will never forget, but it wasn’t the NCAA tournament experience that was the biggest factor in helping Big Z be better prepared for the next level.
Nope, it was how Gonzaga head coach Mark Few ran practices similarly to Terry Stotts.
“It was good that I was at a program that was already kind of run similar to how Portland is ran as an organization,” Collins said on Trail Blazers Courtside. “I mean, it’s different, everyday in the NBA is basketball and nothing else, but just the practices and the way we kind of scheduled our workouts and things like that minus class, it’s kind of similar so I’m happy that prepared me.”
Collins appeared in all 39 games for the Zags, reaching double-digit scoring 20 times.
He averaged 10.0 points, 5.9 rebounds, and 1.8 blockers per game. His 65.2 FG percentage was a West Coast Conference-best.
But, as Trail Blazers fans have come to love Collins' tenacious approach on the defensive end, the Las Vegas native has always poured his heart and soul into that end of the floor.
In his one season with the Bulldogs, he blocked a West Coast Conference-best 69 shots, which was the second-most in a season in Gonzaga history. He blocked a total of 18 shots in the NCAA Tournament (3.0 per game).
As Collins continued to reflect on his time at Gonzaga, he told Holton and Kent that conditioning in practicing didn’t mean run a set of lines or work without the ball.
That’s how the Blazers like to run practice as well.
“The playing style... In practice it was a lot of playing, it wasn’t a lot of put the ball down and run. It’s similar to that in the NBA because everything we do -- conditioning, everything -- it’s with the ball in our hands. We play a lot in practice and that’s the main thing. So, I’m glad that I went to a school that I experienced that with before I got to the NBA,” Collins said.
At Gonzaga, Collins was listed at 230 pounds. Growing up he was given the nickname Big Skinny, which he admits he enjoys that name, but in his three years in the league adding muscle has been a huge component in Collins’ development.
And it’s the one thing that the 22-year-old wishes he would’ve focused on more at Gonzaga.
I think strength was a big factor for my development in this league. If I could go back, I think I would’ve put a little bit more emphasis on that when I was in college, going into the league. I always worked hard. I always wanted to be in the weight room, but I think if I could’ve been a little better with my diet, maybe that one year I was at Gonzaga it would’ve helped me be more prepared going into my rookie year. -- Trail Blazers big man Zach Collins on Trail Blazers Courtside
Collins is now listed at 250 pounds.
He went from Big Skinny to Big Z during the summer of his rookie to sophomore season. Much has been made about Collins putting on weight, but making sure to not put it on too quickly that it would affect his game.
Now after rehabbing his left shoulder for the past five months following November’s surgery to repair his left labrum, Collins, the Trail Blazers, and Blazers fans are all eager to see Big Z out on the court again.
As are Gonzaga fans. Once a Zag, always a Zag.