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Gonzaga’s Zach Collins ‘walks the walk’ into one-and-done discussion after Final Four performance

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GLENDALE, Ariz. — This season’s freshman class is arguably the best crop of newcomers that college basketball has seen in over a decade. Between the overall depth and one-and-done star power of the group, it was a class that was discussed at length throughout the season.

Until the Final Four started.

As mock-draft darlings like Jayson Tatum, Lonzo Ball and Malik Monk started to disappear from March Madness, the focus on freshmen and the NBA Draft began to fade. One of the common storylines of the Final Four even revolved around the lack of one-and-done freshmen playing in Glendale.

Gonzaga freshman big man Zach Collins and his outstanding play on Saturday showed that we shouldn’t be finished talking about this season’s newcomers.

Coming off the bench and giving a huge lift on both ends of the floor, Collins finished with 14 points, 13 rebounds and six blocks as he helped the Bulldogs to a 77-73 win over South Carolina during Saturday’s first national semifinal.

Picking up his first double-double of the season, Collins had an extreme amount of confidence entering Saturday’s game despite a poor recent stretch during the NCAA tournament. Collins even predicted to roommate and point guard Nigel Williams-Goss that he was about to erupt on the sport’s biggest stage.

“Well, me and Zach are roommates. And we’ve been roommates all year long,” Williams-Goss said. “And he told me before the game, he said, ‘Look, I wouldn’t want to be playing against me today.’ And Coach says it all year that we just can’t talk the talk, we gotta walk the walk. And when he told me that I looked at him and I said, ‘Alright, let’s do it then.’ For him to come out with a double-double with six blocks, he walked the walk.”

“It feels really good. I know I had a rough couple of games prior to this. I was hearing from everyone on social media about how I wasn’t ready for this stage and how the speed of the game was too much for me. That made me really mad,” Collins said. “I knew I could play at this level. I just wanted to come out, don’t be passive. Be as aggressive as possible with everything I could.”

As starting center Przemek Karnowski went back to the locker room with an eye injury in the first half, Collins and his aggression became a major force on both ends of the floor for the Zags. Owning the glass, finishing around the basket and walling up to block dunks, Collins made all of the plays that should put him squarely in the one-and-done discussion. Collins even willed an ugly three-pointer from the top of the key to go down during a key stretch that helped stop a big South Carolina run.

“That three was huge,” Gonzaga assistant coach Tommy Lloyd said. “It was a 13-0 or 16-0 run. The wheels feel like they’re coming off. It’s one of those shots, he missed it so bad, it went in. You get a sticky ball sometimes. It sticks and rolls in. It was huge for us.”

“It completely bricked. It was probably the ugliest shot I’ve ever taken,” Collins said. “Luckily it bounced in. I’ve never seen a shot like that but I’m happy with it.”

Collins might have been lucky to make that shot, but there is nothing lucky about his intense approach to the game or the results that came during Saturday’s win. Gonzaga’s first McDonald’s All-American to come out of high school, Collins was a bit of a late-bloomer during his high school career.

Collins actually came off the bench during his junior year of high school at Nevada powerhouse Bishop Gorman as two senior McDonald’s All-Americans, Stephen Zimmerman (UNLV) and Chase Jeter (Duke), played in front of him. Gonzaga still recruited Collins as hard as possible despite his limited minutes during the high school season as they saw a guy who could develop.

“We didn’t know he was a one-and-done,” Lloyd said. “We thought this is a great program player for us who is a high-character kid who really wanted to develop in our system.”

“We didn’t recruit him because he was a McDonald’s All-American. We recruited him because he fit Gonzaga’s culture. We’re never going to veer from that path.”

While Gonzaga has been able to sustain consistent success by recruiting at a strong level, they’ve recently started to recruit at an elite level. Collins and Williams-Goss were both Burger Boys coming out of high school. That distinction is important because only two national champions in the last 40 years (Maryland in 2002 and UConn in 2014) didn’t have a McDonald’s All-American on the roster.

Now stocked with elite talent and an impressive rotation, the Bulldogs have all of the pieces they need to compete for a national championship on Monday night.

“Things just kind of fell together for us. You get Przemek to come back for a year with this team and he can play with Nigel. Zach Collins, who isn’t a backup, a lot of times he’s a pickup. He really picks us up and he can really play in these high-level games with his athleticism. And I think it’s honestly been the formula for the team that we are,” Lloyd said.

Regardless of Monday’s national-championship outcome, Collins is going to have an intriguing decision ahead of him in the next few weeks thanks to Saturday’s standout performance. There is already a “Collins” sitting in the first round of a lot of NBA mock drafts, but that would be standout Wake Forest sophomore center John Collins.

After Saturday’s game, adding another Collins to those mock drafts doesn’t sound like a bad idea.

“It’s really cool to see him get the success in this day and age when people aren’t patient,” Lloyd said. “I don’t know what the future holds for Zach. But I know if he stays the course and stays patient, he’ll have unlimited opportunities.”

Colorado adds commitment from Class of 2017 point guard McKinley Wright

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Colorado landed one of the best available point guards for next season on Friday as Class of 2017 floor general McKinley Wright committed during an official visit.

A former Dayton commit who opted out of his recruitment after former head coach Archie Miller took the Indiana job, Wright was one of the best available point guards left as he played last weekend on the adidas Gauntlet in front of college coaches with D1 Minnesota.

The 6-foot-0 Wright gives the Buffaloes another ball handler and distributor as he was Minnesota’s Mr. Basketball during this past season. As a senior, Wright averagedΒ 22.9 points, 8.1 rebounds and 7.8 assists per game.

It’s always hard to say if spring recruits who elevate a level in recruiting after decommitting are making the correct decision, but Wright looked the part of a high-major lead guard last weekend, and Colorado wasn’t the only high-major program that was pushing hard to add Wright at this late stage.

Oral Roberts to hire Baylor assistant coach Paul Mills

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Oral Roberts has found its new head coach as they will hire Baylor assistant coach Paul Mills, as first reported by NBCSports.com’s Rob Dauster.

Mills had been on staff with the Bears since 2003 as he’s been a big factor in why head coach Scott Drew has been able to turn around that program. A graduate of Texas A&M, Mills has been a full-time assistant at Baylor since the 2009 season.

“I am honored to accept this role of representing this historic institution, its students and its mission,” Mills said in a release. “Making this commitment today is a highlight of my career and I look forward with excitement to the basketball season directly ahead. Go Golden Eagles.”

Mills will replace former head coach Scott Sutton, who was relieved of his duties this offseason after 18 years at the helm.

 

Iowa commit Connor McCaffery to redshirt in basketball to pursue baseball

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Iowa commit Connor McCaffery is in a unique spot when he starts his freshman year in Iowa City next year.

Not only is the 6-foot-4 guard the son of basketball head coach Fran McCaffery, while being a four-star national basketball prospect, but Connor also has a bright future in baseball.

There was a lot of speculation as to what Connor might do for his future in athletics and he gave more clarification on what he might be looking to do on Friday.

McCaffery has decided to redshirt in basketball next season to focus on the beginnings of his baseball career at Iowa. A walk-on for both sports, the move enables Connor McCaffery to potentially play three years of basketball with his younger brother, Patrick, who is also a heralded basketball recruit for Iowa. This move also gives Connor the best chance to pursue both sports while he’ll also help out a young Iowa basketball team with its tough scholarship scenario.

Butler, Chris Holtmann agree to a contract extension

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Butler has agreed to a contract extension with head coach Chris Holtmann, the school announced on Friday, that will keep him under contract through 2025.

“Butler truly is a special place, and my family and I are thankful to be part of a great academic institution and an athletics department that is a source of pride for those who embrace Butler and The Butler Way,” said Holtmann. “Our student-athletes, our staff, and so many throughout our campus are remarkable at what they do, and I’m excited to continue to work alongside them.”

Holtmann was named Big East Coach of the Year after leading the Bulldogs to a 25-9 record and a spot in the Sweet 16. In three years with the program, Holtmann has a record of 70-31.

“Chris is a tremendous ambassador for Butler and the Butler Way, and his leadership has resulted in success both on and off the court for the talented young men in our program,” said Butler Vice President/Director of Athletics Barry Collier. “This commitment – both by our university and by Chris – allows the momentum within our program to continue.”

Holtmann was in the mix for a couple of jobs this spring, including N.C. State and Missouri.

Report: Nike, Adidas and Under Armour all pass on sponsoring Lonzo Ball

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Lonzo Ball will enter his rookie season in the NBA without a sponsorship deal from Nike, Adidas or Under Armour, only his family’s Big Baller Brand apparel.

That, according to a report from ESPN, is due to his father LaVar’s insistence that Lonzo not sign with one of the three major apparel companies unless they opted to sign a licensing deal for Big Baller Brand merchandise instead of outfitting Lonzo with their own gear.

“We’ve said from the beginning, we aren’t looking for an endorsement deal,” LaVar told ESPN. “We’re looking for co-branding, a true partner. But they’re not ready for that because they’re not used to that model. But hey, the taxi industry wasn’t ready for Uber, either.”

LaVar had been representing his son in the negotiations, and is now expected to reach out to other shoe brands, including Chinese apparel companies like Li-Nang.

Big Baller Brand is a startup apparel company launched by LaVar Ball. They sell t-shirts, sweatshirts and hats, with most of their products costing at least $50.

Lonzo declared for the NBA Draft after an all-american season that saw him and the UCLA Bruins flame out of the NCAA tournament in the Sweet 16. UCLA lost to Kentucky in that game, and Lonzo had a quiet night while his point guard counterpart, De’Aaron Fox, went off for 39 points.

Lonzo is a likely top three pick in the NBA Draft and, potentially, could still end up going No. 1. He has two younger brothers as well. LiAngelo will be a freshman with the Bruins next season while LaMelo just finished his sophomore season in high school. Both will attend UCLA.