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From Grease to greatness: Bonzie Colson’s transformation into an All-American

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The moment that Martin Inglesby knew Bonzie Colson was the right player for the Notre Dame program didn’t come during an EYBL game against a top recruit in his class or while watching Colson finish off his third workout of the day.

It came during a high school practice, one that Colson left early. He had rehearsal. He was starring in the St. Andrew’s School’s production of Grease.

“He’s really comfortable in his skin,” said Inglesby, who is now the head coach at Delaware but, at the time, was a longtime assistant on Mike Brey’s staff. “He’s a bright kid, really articulate, well-rounded. Going to St. Andrews was really good for him. Every year there he had to be in a play. I remember going up to watch his workouts, and he’d have to leave basketball practice to go to play practice. I’d call him and he’d be coming from study hall, and I was like, ‘This kid fits us.'”

And while the Notre Dame coaching staff would love to be able to say that they knew he was going to be great, they knew something that no one else did the first time they set eyes on their future all-american, the truth is … well … they didn’t. Colson is a power forward that stands all of 6-foot-5 on a good day. In high school, he had a little, shall we say, baby fat around the midsection, and his high-waist and skinny legs meant that he wasn’t exactly what you’d call a layup line scout.

“He’s exceeded my expectations,” head coach Mike Brey told NBC Sports.

But the kid had strong bloodlines. His father was a former Rhode Island star and an assistant coach with Al Skinner at Boston College. What’s more is that Brey not only knew Big Bonzie as a rival assistant in the Big East, but they were also rivals in the high school ranks. The elder Colson was playing for Dunbar High in Baltimore when Brey was coaching at DeMatha.

And the younger Colson?

He was able to produce at every level he had played at. High school, AAU, the EYBL. His style of play, the ability he had to space the floor, the toughness battling bigger players in the paint, fit how Notre Dame runs their offense.

“Let’s get him,” Brey remembers thinking at the time. “The way we play, we’ll figure it out.”


A young Bonzie Colson, via St. Andrew’s School

There really is no great story about how Notre Dame discovered Bonzie Colson.

They didn’t watch him go for 30 points against a kid they were recruiting. There was no monster performance when they got to a gym early and had to watch the end of the previous game. Colson didn’t come from some out-of-the-way, backwoods town that doesn’t show up on GPS. He’s from New Bedford, Mass., a suburb outside Providence less than an hour from Boston.

The Irish, believe it or not, discovered Colson in a recruiting service they subscribe to.

You see, Notre Dame has a type. Brey and his staff know their school. They know their program. They know that not everyone can thrive in those academic environs, that the recruits they bring to South Bend must value a degree from, say, the Mendoza College of Business over major minutes early in their career.

“I always look for key words that fit us,” said Inglesby. “High basketball IQ, feel for the game, versatile forward. Something like that.”

That’s what Colson’s profile said. So Inglesby called up Colson’s high school coach, Mike Hart, who said more of the same. He’s a good kid, undersized with a chip on his shoulder because so many people told him he wasn’t good enough. Inglesby made it a point to see Colson play the next chance he got, which came at an EYBL event in Los Angeles in April of 2013.

Colson was playing for BABC, but the program didn’t have the kind of talent that typically populates the roster. Still, they were winning enough and Colson was playing well. After watching him play that first game, Inglesby came away impressed, even more so after seeing the box score. 18 points, eight boards, five assists, four blocks.

The next time Colson played that weekend, Inglesby and Brey were sitting one court away.

“Just watch this kid, No. 35.”

Mike Brey (Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)

Every time Brey did, Colson was making something happen. There was a tip-in, a 15-footer jumper, an offensive rebound in traffic. Every time the Irish head man glanced over to that court, Colson was making something else happen. Brey, like Inglesby, was intrigued. At dinner that night, the pair decided to make sure that they saw Colson play twice the next day, the last day of that live period, and he again impressed.

“He was a little out of shape, awkward body, but damn did he produce every time he got on the floor,” Inglesby said.

They started recruiting Colson after that, but it wasn’t as if they were immediately sold on him. He could play, they knew that, but a 6-foot-5 power forward is a 6-foot-5 power forward; there’s a reason you don’t often see them in the ACC. What the staff couldn’t shake, however, was that production. Playing in the EYBL, Colson was going up against the big men that he’ll eventually see down the road should he wind up at an high-major program. And in the spring and summer of 2013, Colson’s final season of AAU ball, he was the single-most efficient offensive player on the EYBL circuit.

“Every time someone would say, ‘size, all that,’ Martin would go ‘Coach, look at the latest update,'” Brey said. “Every time we wanted to doubt him, he would show me the efficiency stats.”

“We just kept coming back to, ‘I don’t know what number he is, but he’s a basketball player.'”


Bonzie Colson (Elsa/Getty Images)

The academic standards required by Notre Dame would, at face value, appear to be a hindrance for an ACC basketball program. The enrollment requirements and the strenuous workloads significantly diminishes the pool of players that Brey and his staff are able to recruit from.

That’s an obstacle to work around, but it’s become one of the most influential factors in the culture that he’s been able to build on this team.

Beyond the simple fact that a smaller pools of potential recruits allows the Irish to narrow their focus onto top targets more quickly, the academic component has allowed Brey to hold on to players that may have transferred out of another program frustrated by the lack of early playing time. You see, Notre Dame is something of a throwback. Brey is loyal to his upperclassmen. They’re going to get their starting spot and major minutes while the underclassmen are forced to ride the pine for one, two or even three seasons, if they happen to redshirt.

In the one-and-done era where early entry to the NBA Draft has become an annual tradition for college basketball’s best and brightest stars, Notre Dame has been able to stay old, to promote from within, to have that next man up ready when, say, Jerian Grant and Pat Connuaghton graduates, or Demetrius Jackson and Zach Auguste leave school.

It’s a credit to the Notre Dame coaches for developing the players they bring in.

But in order for those coaches to be able to develop them, they actually have to be there.

“I think they’ve seen a track record of guys ahead of them, but it also helps that they’re there for the degree, too,” Brey said. “So when they are, as a sophomore, thinking about leaving, and they’re like, ‘well, I’m two years into the Mendoza Business School degree,’ I can keep them another year that other people can’t.”

“Yes, they’ve been unhappy. Yes, they’ve thought about transferring, but they hang in there with us another year, and by their junior year, they’re playing. Matt Farrell, his dad probably wanted to kidnap me when he was a sophomore and wasn’t playing. Now, I’m a family member.”

In the process, Brey has built up a reputation for making players better. There’s a culture within that locker room, a belief that as long as you put in the work, your time will come. That’s part of what made Notre Dame appealing to Colson, particularly the success that Brey has had with skilled, undersized forwards: Luke Harangody, Tim Abromaitis, Pat Connaughton.

“Those undersized players, they really develop in the system,” Colson said. “The offense we run really fits for them. Small-ball, move, pass. I think that kind of fits who I am as a basketball player.”

Colson knew what he was in for when he signed on with the Irish. He’s shed 20 pounds from the 240 that he weighed when he arrived in South Bend – the, as he puts it, “overweight baby fat” – and was playing well in practice, but he was the eighth-man in a seven-man rotation. By mid-January, he had taken six DNP-CDs and was “taking my practices as games,” he said. “Playing hard, taking charges, fouling hard. That was my game.”

It paid off early in ACC play, when star Zach Auguste was forced to miss some time due to an academic misstep. Colson stepped in an immediately started producing, scoring 10 points in 22 minutes in a win at Georgia Tech after failing to get in any of the previous three games. He was good enough in Auguste’s absence that Brey had to find minutes for him, and by the end of the year, it paid off. In February, Colson had a three-game stretch were he went for 16 points in 14 minutes at Boston College, had 16 points in 19 minutes against Clemson and then posted a season-high 17 in a win at Louisville.

His true coming out party came a week later, when he scored 14 of his 17 points in the first half of an upset-win over eventual national champions Duke in the ACC tournament.

As a sophomore, Colson started and averaged 11.1 points and 6.7 boards in 25 minutes, but the real leap came as a junior, when he was named an all-american after averaging 17.8 points and 10.1 boards. The 6-foot-5 Colson often played the role of center for that Notre Dame team, the centerpiece of an offense that was, oftentimes, unstoppable.

What makes Colson to unique is that, while he truly is 6-foot-5, he has no neck. If you line him up, shoulder-to-shoulder, with someone that is 6-foot-7 or 6-foot-8, their shoulders are at the same level, meaning that, functionally, he is a 6-foot-8 player with a 7-foot-3 wingspan.

“He’s sneaky long because of it,” Brey said. “You don’t expect it.”

“His dad is 6-10. His mom is tall. He’s hoping he’s still going to grow,” Farrell, a senior, all-ACC point guard and one of Colson’s best friends, says with a smile.

Matt Farrell celebrates with Bonzie Colson (Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

The size disadvantage is not as bad as it seems, which is critical given Colson’s elaborate offensive repertoire. He has the entire package. He shot 43.3 percent from three last season. He can score in the post. He’s a killer from 17-feet and in. He can pass out of double-teams as well, which is where this all comes together: Notre Dame can put four shooters on the floor around him, which puts defenses in a bind. Either you try to stop him one-on-one (more on that in a second) or you send another defender, at which point Colson makes the right pass and the Irish get an open three.

“We try to isolate him,” Farrell said. “He’s just so hard to guard. He can shoot, he can hit that step back, he’s long enough that he can finish around the rim. He’s hard to guard from the post out because when he’s fading away, he’s got those long arms where he can get that off. He plays angles well. He’s so unique.”

Much of Colson’s improvement one-on-one can be credited to Notre Dame assistant Ryan Humphrey. Humphrey was part of Brey’s first teams at Notre Dame, a 6-foot-10 low-post bruiser that averaged 19 points, 10 boards and three blocks as a senior before getting selected as the 19th pick of the 2002 NBA Draft. He bounced around the NBA for five years before spending some time playing in Europe. He’s retired now, and joined Brey’s staff in the spring of 2016.

And as soon as he got onto campus, he made a point to seek out Colson.

To play one-on-one.

“If he can score on me, he can score on anyone,” Humphrey said with a smile.

He was right.

“Our first workout and I couldn’t score on him,” Colson said. “It was a big reality check on where my game needs to be. He’s been out of the game for eight years and he’s still locking me up?”

Those one-on-one games, which Colson credits with “expanding my game,” still persist, although it’s tough to figure out who, exactly, is winning these days. The one thing they do agree on is, as Colson puts it, that “he doesn’t call any fouls.”


(Grant Halverson/Getty Images)

Bonzie Colson was never a diamond in the rough.

His father was an assistant coach on Al Skinner’s staff at Boston College. He played for St. Andrew’s School, a powerhouse high school program in Rhode Island that has produced the likes of Michael Carter-Williams and Cole Swider, a top 40 prospect committed to Villanova. He played AAU ball for BABC, which had, in the two previous years, had produced Nerlens Noel, Wayne Selden, Georges Niang, Jake Layman and Andrew Chrabacz.

Everyone saw Colson.

They just didn’t know what they were looking at.

No. 19 Wichita State upends No. 5 Cincinnati 76-72

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HIGHLAND HEIGHTS, Ky. (AP) — Dave Stallworth was running the show the last time Wichita State beat a Top 5 team on the road. Landry Shamet took the lead as the Shockers did it again 54 years later.

This one, too, will be a reference point, given all that was at stake.

Shamet scored 19 points, and No. 19 Wichita State ended the nation’s longest home-court winning streak, beating No. 5 Cincinnati 76-72 on Sunday to leave the American Athletic Conference race wide open.

The Shockers (21-5, 11-3) beat a Top 5 team on the road for the first time since 1964. They led most of the way, building an 11-point lead midway through the second half and holding on. Shaquille Morris’ dunk with 5 seconds left finished it off.

The Shockers ran onto the floor for congratulatory chest bumps. Coach Gregg Marshall got a celebratory dunking in the locker room, leaving his light-colored shirt clinging to him.

“It’s tremendous,” Marshall said. “Look at my shirt. College basketball has such tremendous parity. The games are decided by great players making great plays. Landry is a tremendous player.”

The Bearcats (23-4, 12-2) had won their last 39 home games. In their first real home challenge of the season, they wound up playing catch-up and coming up short. Cincinnati hasn’t beaten a ranked team all season, falling to 0-3 with losses to Xavier and Florida.

Cincinnati and Wichita State were expected to contend for the title in the Shockers’ first season in the AAC. Wichita State gave itself a chance with a solid all-around game led by its point guard. Shamet had 16 points in the first half, when the Shockers shredded the nation’s second-ranked defense to take control.

Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin was bothered by his team’s “gross, mind-boggling defensive breakdowns,” including allowing the Shockers to get open for those two late layups. Wichita State shot 53 percent from the field, getting open 3-pointers in the first half and layups in the second half.

“We’re just not in a good place right now,” Cronin said. “I hadn’t slept much. We’re not in a good place for a lot of reasons.”

Wichita State closes the regular season by hosting Cincinnati on March 4. Houston (21-5, 11-3) also is in the running for the league title after beating Temple on Sunday.

The Shockers hit seven of eight shots during a 17-3 run that gave them a 34-23 lead. Cincinnati responded by turning up its full-court defense, forcing three quick turnovers, and going on a run that cut the deficit to 42-40 at halftime.

The Shockers showed a little defense of their own, forcing five turnovers while rebuilding their lead to 59-48 with 11 minutes left, matching its biggest of the game. Cincinnati closed to 72-70 on Trevon Scott’s dunk with 13 seconds left, but the Shockers scored on a pair of inbound passes by Landry, the last a full-court heave to Morris for a dunk that provided the final margin.

“This is what we do,” said Austin Reaves, who made the first of the two decisive layups. “We stick together on the road.”

BIG PICTURE

Wichita State: The Shockers needed a win to maintain their chances of a regular season title, and they got it with another good showing on the road. The Shockers are the most successful road team in the nation over the past five years at 47-8, including 7-2 this season.

“This is like our 50th red-out or white-out or black-out,” Marshall said. “We feel comfortable when that happens.”

Cincinnati: The Bearcats moved into the Top 5 even though they hadn’t beaten a ranked team all season. Losses at Houston and at home to Wichita State left them prepared for a plummet.

“As it gets later in the season, every team is better,” said Jacob Evans III, who had 16 points. “It’s not the beginning of conference or the season. Every team knows us well. We’ve got to be able to go to second options when they take away the first ones.”

NO LONGER A SWEET HOME

The Bearcats hadn’t lost at home since a 77-70 defeat against Temple on Dec. 29, 2015. They went 18-0 at Fifth Third Arena last season and were 13-0 at Northern Kentucky’s BB&T Arena, where they’re playing this season while their on-campus arena is renovated.

LONG TIME NO SEE

The Shockers and Bearcats played regularly as members of the Missouri Valley Conference from 1958-70, but it was their first game since 1981.

TOP 5 HISTORY

It was only the fourth time the Shockers have beaten a Top 5 team on the road. They beat No. 5 Oklahoma A&M in 1954 and topped No. 3 Loyola in 1963 and again in 1964 behind Stallworth.

TOUGH WEEKEND IN CINCY

Cincinnati had two teams in the Top 5, and both of them lost at home over the weekend. No. 4 Xavier lost to No. 3 Villanova 95-79 on Saturday at Cintas Center.cincinnati

Andy Kennedy resigns from Ole Miss effective immediately

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Andy Kennedy announced that, effective immediately, he will be stepping down as the head coach at Ole Miss. Tony Madlock will serve as the interim head coach for the remainder of the season.

The reason is simple: Kennedy wanted to “relieve any external pressure being felt by our current players” and he did not believe that last week’s announcement that this would be his final season in Oxford accomplished that.

“It has become readily apparent to me that my continued presence as the head coach is proving detrimental to these players finishing the season in a fashion that is representative of The Standard for this program that has been clearly established and maintained for over a decade,” Kennedy said in a statement. “Yherefore, I believe that it is in everyone’s best interest that I exit my role as head coach effective immediately. We all know that “clean breaks” are always best, and I should have realized this last Monday. My apologies.”

On Saturday, Ole Miss lost by 17 points at Mississippi State. That came two days after Kennedy went viral for a brutally honest criticism of what his team was going through.

“I can’t get to them,” he said. “I can’t reach them.”

It’s sad that this is the way that it had to end for the best basketball coach that Ole Miss has ever had. But it had to be done.

No. 12 Duke beats No. 11 Clemson as defensive resurgence continues

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Grayson Allen finished with 19 points, four assists and four steals, scoring 17 of his points in the first half, and Wendell Carter added 15 points, 10 boards and three blocks as No. 12 Duke won their fourth straight game without Marvin Bagley III, 66-57.

No. 11 Clemson was short-handed as well, and that’s something that needs to be noted. Not only are they playing without Donte Grantham, who tore his ACL earlier this year, but Shelton Mitchell was not in the lineup after suffering a nasty concussion at Florida State on Wednesday.

The Tigers were a No. 3 seed when the bracket reveal occurred last Sunday, but like Ohio State and Oklahoma, they have now lost back-to-back games; 11 of the top 16 teams have lost a game in the last week.

But the story here more than anything is Duke.

Yes, Allen finished with 19 points and continues to play well without Bagley on the floor. Getting him into a rhythm is critically important for this team. He was averaging 14.7 points in 24 games with Bagley. He is averaging 22.3 points in the last three games that Bagley has missed, and that does not include the 37-point outburst he had when Bagley went down with an injury against Michigan State.

Coach K also has had a chance to develop some confidence in his bench. Javin DeLaurier had 10 boards on Sunday. Marques Bolden didn’t play a done of minutes, but he still finished with five points, three boards and a pair of blocks. He was, generally speaking, a positive influence on the game.

But here is the most important and perplexing nugget: Duke, for the third straight game, was excellent defensively. They’ve now allowed fewer than 1.0 points-per-possession in each of the last three games. They are clearly not the same time offensively without Bagley’s presence on the floor, but it is impossible to ignore what they have been defensively in the last 10 days without him.

To put it into context: For all the talk about how much of a problem Duke’s defense has been, the Blue Devils are now ranked 43rd in adjusted defensive efficiency, according to KenPom. They were 79th after they lost to North Carolina, the last game that Bagley played. Villanova, who many believe is the best team in the country when healthy, is 42nd.

The question we need to ask is whether or not that will continue once Bagley makes his return.

Because the only thing standing between Duke and a Final Four is their inability to defend.

No. 8 Ohio State falls at No. 22 Michigan, Michigan State moves into first in Big Ten

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After all of the drama and the speculation about whether or not Ohio State or Purdue was the best team in the Big Ten, water has seemingly found its level.

On Sunday afternoon in Ann Arbor, No. 8 Ohio State lost their second straight game, falling 74-62 at No. 22 Michigan and allowing No. 2 Michigan State — who had one of college basketball’s greatest comebacks on Saturday at Northwestern — to slide into sole possession of first place in the Big Ten with just one week left of the regular season.

Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman led the way with 17 points while Jordan Poole added 15 off the bench in the win.

The Wolverines did a good job of slowing down Ohio State’s all-american forward, Keita Bates-Diop. KBD finished with 17 points and seven boards, but he shot just 5-for-17 from the floor. Jae-Sean Tate led the way with 20 points and 15 boards for the Buckeyes.

There was a special moment before this game even started as Austin Hatch, a two-time survivor of plane crashes that killed his entire immediate family, took part in the team’s Senior Day.

VIDEO: Michigan celebrates plane crash survivor Austin Hatch’s Senior Day

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If you don’t know the story of Michigan senior Austin Hatch, you should.

He’s survived two plane crashes in his life. The first, in 2003, robbed him of his mother, 11-year old sister and five-year old brother. In 2011, to celebrate his commitment to the Wolverines, Hatch’s father flew them up to the family’s vacation home, but the plane crashed into a garage killing Hatch’s dad and his stepmom and leaving Austin critically injured.

He had a severe brain trauma, a punctured lung, broken ribs and a broken collarbone, and in order to manage the swelling in his brain, he was put into a medically-induced coma for eight months.

He managed to return and even played for the Wolverines during the 2014-15 season, but he eventually made the decision to retire from basketball at the end of the year. He did, however, remain a part of the program and on Sunday, during Michigan’s Senior Day, he warmed up with the team and was introduced to the crowd as a starter and no, I’m not crying, YOU’RE crying: