When Przemek Karnowski was a freshman, he played 10.7 minutes per game behind Kelly Olynyk, Elias Harris and Sam Dower.
When Domantas Sabonis was a freshman, he came off the bench behind Karnowski and Kyle Wiltjer. When Olynyk was a freshman, Harris and Robert Sacre hogged most of the playing time. When Sacre was a freshman, he scrapped for 9.3 minutes per game behind Josh Heyvelt and Abdullahi Kuso.
The point is Gonzaga has had a succession of standout big men, emphasis on men, and most spent their first season flanking talented teammates.
Zach Collins is in that pipeline now, carving out quality minutes as a freshman while in line to be Gonzaga’s next big thing. He backs up Karnowski, who has made an impressive recovery from back surgery.
“He’s out here playing and dominating. It’s unbelievable,” Collins said. “I’m so happy for him. I’m really, really lucky to be kind of his little brother out there. He really does take me under his wing. I’ve learned so much coming from summer to now just because of him.
“He’s always in my ear, not going easy on me in practice. He’s a big dude and I’ve been really sore a lot because of battling him in practice but I wouldn’t want it any other way.”
Collins averages 10.1 points and 5.3 rebounds in roughly 17 minutes per game in a frontcourt that also includes Johnathan Williams and Killian Tillie. Collins has blocked a team-high 17 shots and leads the WCC in field-goal percentage (71.2).
Those numbers compare favorably with Sabonis, who played 21.6 minutes in a three-man frontcourt rotation, averaging 9.7 points, 7.1 rebounds and 66.8-percent shooting. Harris was 20 years old when he arrived at GU and started on a thin frontcourt.
“Zach brings legit size, a true 7-footer who is built pretty well and he’s really mobile and athletic for a young big,” Zags assistant Brian Michaelson said. “He shoots it out to 3, great free-throw shooter, jump hooks with both hands.
“In our high-low system and the ball-screen stuff we do, his skill set fits all of that.
The contrasting styles of the 7-foot-1, 300-pound Karnowski and the 7-foot, 230-pound Collins adds to Gonzaga’s versatility.
Few teams have the size to match up with Karnowski inside.
Collins “has the ability to play the 4 and the 5,” Michaelson said. “He can run, play above the rim. He can really score the ball and he shoots such a good percentage.”
Basketball and school occupy most of Collins’ daily routine, but he finds time for other interests. Collins and nearly all of his teammates are hooked on “Game of Thrones,” but he’s playing catch-up. He’s on Season 2 while more experienced Zags are on Seasons 4 or 5.
Collins, a product of Bishop Gorman High in Las Vegas, also says he can carry a tune. Green Day is his favorite band but he enjoys a variety of music, including rap artists Drake and Logic.
“I’d say Zach Norvell and Josh Perkins are probably up there with me,” Collins said of the team’s top vocalists. “We all could be doing something in the future that involves our voices so look forward to that, possibly.”
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