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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.”

Bubbles brewing with season on horizon

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INDIANAPOLIS — With the coronavirus pandemic already forcing changes for college basketball, a bubble may be brewing in Indianapolis.

Indiana Sports Corp. released a 16-page proposal Friday that calls for turning the city convention center’s exhibition halls and meeting rooms into basketball courts and locker rooms. There would be expansive safety measures and daily COVID-19 testing.

The all-inclusive price starts at $90,000 per team and would cover 20 hotel rooms per traveling party, testing, daily food vouchers ranging from $30-$50 and the cost of game officials. Sports Corp. President Ryan Vaughn said the price depends on what offerings teams or leagues choose.

“The interest has been high,” Vaughn said. “I think as conferences figure out what conference and non-conference schedules are going to look like, we’re we’re a very good option for folks. I would tell you we’ve had conversations with the power six conferences, mid-majors, it’s really kind of all over the Division I spectrum.”

Small wonder: The NCAA this week announced teams could start ramping up workouts Monday, with preseason practices set to begin Oct. 14. Season openers, however, were pushed back to Nov. 25 amid wide-ranging uncertainty about campus safety and team travel in the pandemic.

There is already scrambling going on and some of the marquee early-season tournaments have already been impacted.

The Maui Invitational will be moved from Hawaii to Asheville, North Carolina, with dates still to be determined and organizers clear that everyone involved “will be in a bubble environment that limits their movement and interaction outside the venue.” The Batttle 4 Atlantis has been canceled. The Cancun Challenge will be held in Melbourne, Florida, not Mexico.

More changes almost certainly will be coming, including what to do with the ACC-Big Ten Challenge.

“I think we’re past the guesswork on whether we play 20 conference games or more than that,” Purdue coach Matt Painter said Friday. “We’re trying to get everybody set like in terms of MTEs (multi-team events), figuring out when to play the ACC-Big Ten challenge.”

Painter, who was part of the NCAA committee that recommended how to start the season, noted part of the uncertainty stems from differing protocols imposed by campus, city and state officials.

In Indianapolis, Vaughn believes the convention center, nearby hotels, restaurants and downtown businesses, many within walking distance of the venue, could safely accommodate up to 24 teams. The 745,000-square foot facility would feature six basketball courts and two competition courts.

Anyone entering the convention center would undergo saliva-based rapid response testing, which would be sent to a third-party lab for results. Others venues could be added, too, potentially with more fans, if the case numbers decline.

If there is a taker, the event also could serve as a dry run for the 2021 Final Four, also slated for Indy.

“It’s not going to hurt,” Vaughn said. “I can tell you all the planning we’re doing right now is the same for a Final Four that’s been scheduled here for any other year. But it would be nice to have this experience under our belt to see if it can be done.”

Maui Invitational moving to North Carolina during pandemic

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ASHEVILLE, N.C. — The Maui Invitational is moving to the mainland during the coronavirus pandemic.

One of the premier preseason tournaments on the college basketball schedule, the Maui Invitational will be played at the Harrah’s Cherokee Center in downtown Asheville, North Carolina.

Dates for the tournament announced Friday have yet to be finalized. The NCAA announced Wednesday that the college basketball season will begin Nov. 25.

This year’s Maui Invitational field includes Alabama, Davidson, Indiana, North Carolina, Providence, Stanford, Texas and UNLV.

All teams, staff, officials, and personnel will be in a bubble environment that limits their movement and interaction outside the venue.

Burton eligible at Texas Tech after 2 seasons at Wichita State

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LUBBOCK, Texas — Junior guard Jamarius Burton has been granted a waiver from the NCAA that makes him eligible to play this season for Texas Tech after starting 52 games the past two seasons for Wichita State.

Texas Tech coach Chris Beard announced the waiver Thursday, which came five months after Burton signed with the Big 12 team.

Burton has two seasons of eligibility remaining, as well as a redshirt season he could utilize. He averaged 10.3 points and 3.4 assists per game as a sophomore at Wichita State, where he played 67 games overall.

Burton is from Charlotte. He helped lead Independence High School to a 31-1 record and the North Carolina Class 4A state championship as a senior there.

NCAA season set to open day before Thanksgiving

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The NCAA men’s and women’s basketball season will begin on Nov. 25, the day before Thanksgiving.

The Division I Council voted Wednesday to push the start date back from the originally scheduled Nov. 10 as one of several precautions against the spread of coronavirus.

The later start date coincides with the decision most schools made to send students home from Thanksgiving until January out of concern about a potential late-fall and early-winter flareup of COVID-19. Closed campuses could serve as a quasi bubble for players and provide a window for non-conference games.

The maximum number of regular-season games has been reduced from 31 to 27. The minimum number of games for consideration for the NCAA Tournament was cut from 25 to 13.

Teams can start preseason practices Oct. 14 but will be allowed to work out 12 hours per week beginning Monday.

No scrimmages against other teams or exhibitions are allowed.

In other action, the council voted to extend the recruiting dead period for all sports through Dec. 31. In-person recruiting is not allowed during a dead period, though phone calls and other correspondence are allowed.

The men’s and women’s basketball oversight committees had jointly recommended a start date of Nov. 21, which would have allowed for games to be played on the weekend before Thanksgiving. The council opted not to do that to avoid a conflict with regular-season football games.

The council is scheduled to meet again Oct. 13-14 and could delay the start date and change other pieces of the basketball framework if circumstances surrounding the virus warrant.

UConn’s Tyrese Martin granted waiver to play this season

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STORRS, Conn. — UConn swingman Tyrese Martin, who transferred from Rhode Island in April, has been granted a waiver that will allow him to play for the Huskies this season.

The 6-foot-6 junior averaged 12.8 points and 7.1 rebounds and started every game last season for URI, where he was recruited by current UConn coach Dan Hurley.

NCAA rules require undergraduate transfers to sit out a season, but the organization has been more lenient in granting waivers during the pandemic.

Martin, 21, is expected to compete for playing time at UConn on the wing as both a guard and small forward.