It wasn’t long ago when fans packed the blue and orange bleachers inside the Bishop Gorman High School gymnasium to watch a fresh-faced Zach Collins dominate the preps sports scene in Southern Nevada.
But on this particular Friday, that gym is empty. There are no opponents, fans, or college recruiters in hot pursuit. All is quiet — save for the bluetooth speaker playing Drake’s 22-track, “More Life.”
Alone with his parents, trainer and a few close family friends, Collins, 19, is preparing for a career that came faster than they could have imagined at his 2016 high school graduation.
“The last couple weeks have been unbelievable,” said Collins, who was picked 10th overall by the Sacramento Kings and then traded to Portland Trail Blazers on NBA draft night. “From the draft and having my friends out there that I grew up with, it made all the difference in the world just to celebrate it with them and my family. …
“I didn’t think I’d be a one-and-done (at Gonzaga). That was never the plan. I was going to college to win games, grow as a person and a player and whenever I’m ready … go.”
As an underclassmen in high school, the 7-footer contemplated transferring as he backed up five-star big men Chase Jeter (Duke) and Stephen Zimmerman (UNLV). But after waiting his turn, Collins won the Gatorade Nevada Player of the Year his senior season and led the Gaels to their fifth consecutive state title.
His role as a reserve resurfaced at Gonzaga while playing behind fifth-year senior Przemek Karnowski.
“I wanted to play a lot because I’m a competitor,” Collins said. “Any competitor wants to play as much as they can. But playing behind those guys, I made the practices my games. And I tried to go as hard as I could against those guys, even if I’d get embarrassed a couple times — like if they blocked my shot or whatever. I’d just keep going. I knew it would pay off in the end.”
And it did.
After being named a McDonald’s All-American in his last year at Gorman, Collins averaged 10 points, 5.9 rebounds and 1.8 blocked shots over 17.3 minutes as a freshman at Gonzaga to help the Bulldogs reach the NCAA championship game.
Playing as the sixth man, he blossomed during the team’s tournament run and skyrocketed up draft boards because of his ability to space the floor, knock down 3s and defend the rim.
All in a span of about 14 months.
“There’s a dialogue out there that says, ‘(Zach’s) OK playing a role and all that,” said Zach’s father, Mike. “Don’t let him kid you, it burns. Part of what makes him, and part of the hurdle he had to get through, was to really deal with that chip and use that chip against everybody else.”
Pro career begins Saturday
Now with the Trail Blazers, Collins said he’s looking forward to his next journey.
For the past week, Collins has stayed at his parents’ house while working out at his alma mater in preparation for the 11-day NBA Summer League, which begins Friday at the Thomas & Mack Center.
Collins’ first professional game will be against the Utah Jazz at 3 p.m. Saturday at Cox Pavilion.
“I always knew he would do it,” said his mother, Heather Collins, who recently retired from the Clark County School District after teaching special education for 25 years. “I just knew it. I always had a feeling that he was that driven. Zachary loved basketball since he was little enough to hold a ball.”
Mike Collins, a former New Mexico State basketball player who has worked for the City of Las Vegas for nearly 30 years, helped instill that passion in Zach and served as a formidable inside presence during these private workouts.
A native Las Vegan, Mike Collins has coached his son since he was 4, and watched as he dabbled in baseball, four-wheeling and karate while attending Walker Elementary School, Mannion Middle School and Gorman.
“Surreal,” said Mike Collins, summing up his son’s improbable story. “He loves Vegas. He loves Bishop Gorman. He holds Gonzaga dear, but Vegas is his home.”
The same kid who took his middle school dates to the Cinedome 12 for a movie, the one who caught his first ever concert (Green Day) at the Mandalay Bay Events Center, and whose palate still calls for local restaurants such as Sunset Pizzeria and Mi Casa Grill Cantina, has returned to the place where it all started.
This time, as an NBA player.
“Personally, I want to be a hall-of-famer. I want to win championships. I want to be an All-Star,” he said. “But I want to be known as a good teammate and a good dude. More than anything, I value my family and friends so much that I want to make sure I have a good balance of being a good basketball player and a great, loyal person to those guys.”
Contact reporter Ashton Ferguson at email@example.com or 702-383-0430. Follow @af_ferguson on Twitter.