Zach Collins is exactly where he had no intention of being a year ago.
The Gonzaga freshman center is a top prospect in this year’s NBA draft and a legitimate option with the 10th pick for the Kings on June 22.
That’s not to say Collins was found at the end of the bench of his high school team, nor was he an obscure prospect. He was a McDonald’s All-American out of Bishop Gorman High School in Las Vegas and a four-time state champion.
It’s just that Collins, who was the first McDonald’s All-American to sign with the Bulldogs, didn’t arrive on campus with thoughts of bolting for the NBA after a season as some of the best high school players do.
“I tell people all the time, when I got there in the summer I wasn’t a one-and-done player,” Collins said. “So I improved a lot over the summer and during the year.”
The 6-foot-10, 232-pounder improved so much, he could be a player the Kings add for a diverse offensive game that includes solid post moves and perimeter shooting. He played a big role in Gonzaga’s run to the NCAA Championship game, where the Bulldogs lost to North Carolina.
Collins was in Sacramento on Sunday for an individual pre-draft workout with the Kings.
Gonzaga’s success during the NCAA Tournament helped him to believe he could enter the draft after rumblings during the season that he would be highly sought-after prospect.
“Midway through the season you start seeing your name pop up more and more on social media and the internet about going into the draft after one year,” Collins said. “Then I started thinking about it then, but even then I was like, ‘There’s no way.’ But once I got into the tournament and I started playing really good competition and I started playing well and I started getting more comfortable out there, realizing I wasn’t nervous or afraid anybody, at that time during the tournament I realized it’s something I can do.”
Collins averaged 10 points and 5.9 rebounds in 17.2 minutes as a freshman. He shot 65.2 percent from the field, including 47.6 percent from 3-point range.
Collins said his range extends to the NBA 3-point line and he credits his father, Michael, with working to establish his post game. Michael played for New Mexico State before an injury ended his playing career during his freshman season.
His rise to elite prospect status might have been unexpected on his part, but that doesn’t mean Collins expects the pro-level transition to be seamless.
“Obviously I’ve got to get stronger but I think there’s a lot of guys in the draft that need to get stronger before they start playing,” Collins said. “But I think going against Przemek Karnowski and a lot of the bigs we had at Gonzaga everyday in practice, some of the buys were stronger than me at the time, but I learned certain ways to use my length. Just try to find ways to outsmart the offensive player a little bit even if they tried to overpower me. I think I can take some of that I learned at Gonzaga, tactics I used. I think I’ll do well, especially when I add strength.”