The annual boys basketball matchup between Findlay Prep and Bishop Gorman has seen its share of McDonald’s All Americans, and this year’s game is no exception.
But Bishop Gorman senior Zach Collins isn’t quite like any of the previous honorees to play in the Big City Showdown. And that’s because few McDonald’s All Americans have followed a path to national prominence quite like Gorman’s big man.
The 6-foot-11-inch Collins, who is in his first year as a starter, will lead the Gaels (14-6) against Findlay Prep (18-0) at 4:30 p.m. Saturday at South Point Arena.
“I can’t believe I’m in the club with the LeBrons, the Kobes, the Michaels,” Collins said Thursday when he was presented with an All American jersey at Gorman. “It still hasn’t hit me yet, but it’s crazy. I’m honored; I’m humbled.”
It’s especially crazy considering Collins was unable to crack the starting lineup until this season, as he backed up two other McDonald’s All Americans in Chase Jeter (Duke) and Stephen Zimmerman Jr. (UNLV). That’s not to say Collins was an unknown. He long had been well known to recruiters, and he showed tremendous potential in his limited minutes.
But it wasn’t until this season that Collins finally got a chance to fully show what he had. He’s responded by averaging 18.5 points, 14.2 rebounds and 3.4 assists. He’s been just as dominant on defense, with an average of 6.7 blocked shots.
“He’s as good as any center in the country right now,” Gorman coach Grant Rice said. “He just alters the game offensively, but defensively, also. He’s got a good way of blocking shots, rebounding the basketball and just living up to being a McDonald’s All American.”
Collins, who has signed with Gonzaga, concedes it was difficult to spend two seasons on the bench behind Jeter and Zimmerman, but said he thinks it was the best thing for him.
“At the time, it was frustrating being behind two great All Americans that definitely left their mark here,” Collins said. “But I think that helped me more than if I would have been a starter the last two years. Going up against them every day, they’re both incredible players. That was a great experience for me, even though at the time playing-wise in games, it was frustrating.
“Mentally, I just went into every practice like that was my game. That last year, it brought me so much farther than if I was just given the starting spot.”
Now Collins and the Gaels face one of their biggest tests of the season, although not one that will decide any sort of state or league championship.
“I wouldn’t say it’s Findlay or Bishop Gorman’s highlight, but I know the fans in Las Vegas really look forward to that game,” Rice said. “So it’s good to put that game on for the fans. I think they probably enjoy it more than the teams do.”
That may not quite be true. Collins, for one, certainly seems excited for the opportunity to take on the Pilots, who are ranked No. 4 in the nation by USA Today. Gorman is 1-7 against Findlay Prep, with the win coming two years ago. Collins, then a sophomore, hit the go-ahead bucket in overtime in that game.
“It’s one of my favorite games of the year,” Collins said. “For us, it’s definitely one of the most important — obviously a state championship’s more important. This game right now for the past couple months has been our one focus.
“It’s going to be a really tough game, but those are the games we look forward to most at Gorman.”
— Contact prep sports editor Damon Seiters at 702-380-4587 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter: @DamonSeiters