The one-and-done recruiting philosophy in college basketball, where star players head off to the NBA after their freshman season, has yielded mixed results around the country – including in Seattle. But in Spokane, where Gonzaga remains the No. 1 team in the country for the fourth straight week and is poised to make its 18th consecutive NCAA tournament, consistency and a team-first attitude has been the name of the game.
And it’s that outlook that landed them forward/center Zach Collins, the highest-rated recruit in the program’s history.
A 7-footer out of Las Vegas and the first McDonald’s All-American ever to commit to Gonzaga out of high school, Collins is the team’s third-leading scorer, averaging 10.6 points per game, and leads the team in rebounds (5.9) and blocks (1.6) per contest.
He told “Danny, Dave and Moore” on Monday that it was head coach Mark Few’s team-first, winning atmosphere that drew him to Spokane.
“I wanted to come to a winning program and not to a program that was, to say, in the rebuilding phase or had a couple down years and looking to get back to it,” Collins said. “They’ve been at a high level and they’ve gotten better every single year, so that was something that really intrigued me to come here.”
Gonzaga’s recruiting classes – and on-court results – have contrasted with that of the University of Washington, which saw two freshmen drafted in the first round of the NBA Draft in 2016 despite not making the NCAA Tournament. The team will likely see freshman Markelle Fultz follow suit after this season, and potential incoming recruit Michael Porter Jr. the year after that. However, the W’s have not followed the hype. The Huskies have not been invited to the tournament since the 2010-11 season, are currently mired in a nine-game losing streak and have a coach who could be on the hot seat.
While Nigel Williams-Goss, who has turned into a star this season for Gonzaga after transferring from UW, has received much of the national attention, Collins said the beauty of Gonzaga’s system is the importance of team.
“Here, it’s all about team. It’s never been about having one dominant player carry the entire team,” Collins said. “Obviously there have been amazing players that have come through this program, but I think each one of them has learned how to play the game correctly and play the game to where everyone’s involved and I think their track record has shown that if you do that, you win and you win consistently. So I think the fact that they do that and they’ve noticed that it helps them win, they’re going to continue to teach us how to play correctly.”
Other highlights from the conversation:
On being No. 1 in the country: “It’s an honor to see us at No. 1 every day.”
On what allows Gonzaga to remain successful: “(The coaches) just expect you to do a lot of things on the court and they’re going to push you no matter who you are, no matter what quality player you are, they’re going to push you every day to exceed your limits and exceed the limits for this team and to help this team to win. They just hold us to a really high standard and that keeps us all humble and makes us want to work hard to live up to it.”
On Gonzaga’s perceived lack of strength of schedule: “I think we did a good job of proving that we can play with some of the best teams in the country and the more athletic teams in the country. We hear it all the time about our schedule, but I think we do a good job about getting a pretty strong schedule in the preseason and taking care of business.”