Mark Humphrey / AP FILE
Thursday, June 22, 2017 | 2 a.m.
For most young basketball players, walking across the stage at the NBA draft is the fulfillment of a lifelong dream. For Las Vegas native Zach Collins, the wait hasn’t been quite as long.
Collins burst onto the NBA radar this season while helping Gonzaga advance to the national championship game, but it wasn’t until somewhat recently that Collins dared to envision the NBA as an attainable goal.
“It wasn’t really until my junior year of high school when I realized that I could maybe carve out a career for myself playing basketball,” Collins told CBSSports.com. “It was around then when I thought that if I kept growing and getting better that maybe it would be a possibility for me to one day play in the NBA. But I didn’t even know until middle school that college basketball would even be an option. For me, it wasn’t a planned thing from when I was a little kid to play in the NBA. I just enjoyed playing the game, had fun playing it and my goal was always just to keep getting better.”
An early growth spurt was the reason for the delayed dream, as it took a while for Collins’ coordination to catch up with his body.
“Big men always come into their own a little late,” said Zach’s father, Mike Collins. “When your kid is so much bigger than everyone else at 8 or 9 years old, the little guys are running around him because they have control of their bodies. Zach at that age had his legs going one way and his arms going another.”
It may have been difficult to imagine gangly young Zach Collins as a future pro at that point, but he stuck with it, grew into his body and developed into one of the top big men prospects in the nation. He averaged 17.3 points and 14.0 rebounds per game as a senior at Bishop Gorman two years ago, and he turned in one of the most efficient stat lines in the entire country this season as a freshman at Gonzaga, posting 10.0 points, 5.9 rebounds and 1.8 blocks in 17.3 minutes while shooting 65.2 percent from the field.
Now the 7-foot center/power forward is likely to hear his name called within the first dozen or so picks on Thursday night, as teams are tantalized by Collins’ combination of size, length, agility and skill. DraftExpress.com has Collins projected to go as the No. 10 overall pick to the Sacramento Kings, while SI.com has him as the No. 12 pick to the Detroit Pistons.
Wherever Collins ends up, he’ll be ready to battle for his spot. In high school, he was in the unusual situation of sitting behind two other five-star big men in teammates Chase Jeter and Stephen Zimmerman. Though Collins didn’t start until his senior year, he embraced the challenge of earning his minutes.
“Zach just kept getting a little bit better each year, and you could see that constant improvement,” said Bishop Gorman coach Grant Rice. “It wasn’t something that happened overnight. He and his dad would stay in the gym and work out for hours. By his junior year, he was really good. Obviously we had Stephen Zimmerman and Chase Jeter as well, and they would battle all the time. You could really see Zach’s potential.”
Mike Collins was a girls’ basketball coach at Foothill and is now an assistant at Gorman, so Zach always had access to an open gym growing up. His workouts with his father helped him transform from a lanky lump of clay into one of the most skilled big men in the draft.
“There was not one day in his entire life where I asked him to get in the gym,” said Mike Collins. “I never asked him to shoot, work out, run, do push-ups. He was the one asking me and pushing me. I would have been sitting down watching TV. It was all on his own, which is kind of extraordinary.”
All that hard work paid off in March, when Collins put on a show during the NCAA tournament. Over the course of six games, he posted 9.0 points, 6.8 rebounds and 3.0 blocks in just 18.0 minutes. He made 64.5 percent of his shots and two of his three 3-point attempts.
Now it’s time for his NBA chance. His father and Rice will be with him at the draft, and when he walks across the stage, it will be the culmination of a dream (albeit a late-developing dream).
“I would love to tell you that I won’t cry, but whenever your kids realize their dream, it’s emotional,” Mike Collins said. “I can’t tell you how many thousands of hours we spent in empty gyms. It’s going to be a very intense moment.”