The 2017 NBA Draft is set for Thursday, June 22nd. As the stars of the college game get ready to find out where they will begin their NBA journey, CBS Local Sports’ “My Life As” series will give them an opportunity to talk about how they got to this point and what they expect from the future in their own words.
Today, we hear from Gonzaga freshman Zach Collins. Collins was a four-star recruit and McDonald’s All-American out of Bishop Gorman High School in Las Vegas before joining the ‘Zags this past year and helping lead them to an appearance in the national championship game. Thanks to his play in that run to the title game, Collins began shooting up draft boards and decided to forgo his remaining three years of eligibility to enter this year’s draft. He spoke to us about that decision and his goals for his NBA career.
I always enjoyed watching basketball on television when I was younger and whenever I got a toy basketball hoop or a basketball I wanted to immediately go and play, so I’ve loved the game from an early age. I played other sports too growing up, but basketball was the one I always felt the most strongly about. I remember one time I was playing baseball, and I had just gotten done with a game, my dad told me that I had just gotten a call to come and play basketball for a club team. I remember to this day how excited I felt and I just didn’t feel that way about any other sport that I played. I knew in that moment, right around the fifth grade, that basketball was the sport that I wanted to play going forward.
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. 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.
In high school, I didn’t start until my senior year because we had both Stephen Zimmerman (now with the Orlando Magic) and Chase Jeter (now with Duke) on the roster with me. Going against both of those guys in practice every day helped me a lot. I took every practice like it was a game because I wasn’t getting into the actual games a lot. I would just try to go at those guys every day. Even when I was getting beat and they were dunking on me or whatever, I would just keep going at them. At the time, it was tough for me confidence-wise because I wasn’t always getting the better of them, but I tell people all the time that if I could do it all over again, I would do it the exact same way.
The reason I chose to play at Gonzaga is because the coach that recruited me, Brian Michaelson, started recruiting me during my sophomore year of high school taking notice of me when no one else really was. The fact that they stuck with me from then on really showed me that I could trust them. I took a couple of unofficial visits and I saw the campus and I saw that it was a completely crazy basketball school, but also a smaller school in terms of number of students, I liked that. When I met Coach Few I knew that he was going to be a good coach for me.
In terms of the basketball fit, the way that they play was perfect for me. They use their bigs a ton and they win. It’s not a program that’s been in a rebuilding stage in a long, long time. They just keep winning, so that was very attractive.
This past season, I think I realized that we had something special going when we were rolling through the season undefeated and had beaten St. Mary’s a couple of times. Even though our conference is known for not being as good as some of the big ones around the country, we were getting wins against St. Mary’s and they were a Top 25 team all year. They were a team that had given Gonzaga trouble in the past, but we were able to handle them by a pretty good margin and that showed me we had a pretty good thing going. Obviously our conference wasn’t always the strongest, but the way we were winning, the way we were playing our style of basketball, how locked in this team was every single game, I knew that would help a lot in the tournament. I knew because of that, we’d have a chance to go as far as we did.
It was never part of the plan for me to spend just one year in college, but it was never out of the plan either. When I went to college, it was never thinking I’m going for one year and then jumping to the NBA. For me, it was just win, get better, grow as a person and as a player and whenever I felt like I was ready, that’s when I’d go. That just happened to be this year. It was never about being one-and-done or it’s a failure for me.
As I look towards the NBA, I think my experience playing at Gonzaga gives me a little bit of a head start because our offense had so many NBA-type elements in it. We ran a ton of pick-and-rolls, dribble hand-offs, down screens, flare screens and a bunch of pick-and-pops. In the NBA, I think like 90 percent of the offense is pick-and-roll or pick-and-pop, so that experience definitely helps. Obviously it’s a different game, the NBA’s faster and guys are stronger, so I still have to get used to that.
The biggest thing I’m working on as I prepare for the league is my strength and conditioning. The guys in the league are definitely stronger and it’s a faster paced game, so I want to make sure that I’m not tired on the court. I’m also working on ball-handling and shooting, really extending my range out to the NBA three point line. That was a tough transition at first, because I think with jump shots a foot or a foot-and-a-half difference can make a big difference. The longer three point line was definitely tough at first, it took me a couple of days to get used to it, but now I’m definitely comfortable with it. Now, I’m just focused on getting ready to play against men.
The two players that I’ve really tried to model my game after are Tim Duncan and Dirk Nowitzki. With Dirk, I liked the multiple ways that he can score with his jumpshot and length even though he wasn’t the strongest guy on the court, he still got to whatever shot he wanted. Tim Duncan was the same way. His multiple moves on the block and the way that he could get to whatever shot he wanted I really tried to emulate. Neither guy was ever the strongest or most athletic guy on the floor, but they are so smart in the way that they get to their shots. That’s something I’m really trying to emulate as I go to the NBA.
The coolest part of the NBA Draft process for me was really just being able to get up and go play basketball every day. I didn’t have too many interviews to go to so being able to just worry about basketball every day was great. Getting the chance to meet with teams at the NBA Combine was pretty cool too as I got to show them what I’m about while also figuring out what they’re about too. The meetings were definitely a little nerve-wracking since I was meeting with GMs that could be in charge of my future was nerve-wracking, but cool at the same time.
I’ve set my goals pretty high for myself heading into the NBA. I think there’s no reason why I can’t be the rookie of the year, there’s no reason I can’t get the team I’m drafted by to the playoffs, I have really high goals for myself. I want to be in the Hall of Fame when all is said and done, I want to be an All-Star, I want to win championships. I definitely don’t want to be that guy that gets to the NBA and is content with getting there. I want to make a statement when I get there.