Collins Enters Training Camp No Longer A 'Deer In The Headlights'

by Casey Holdahl
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At this time last year, Trail Blazers power forward/center Zach Collins was entering his first official NBA practice after being selected with the 10th overall pick of the 2017 Draft after just one season at Gonzaga. And while stepping onto the court at the Trail Blazers’ practice facility at the start of 2017 training camp was the culmination of a lifelong dream for Collins, it also came with the kind of nervousness and unease one experiences when something which was previously intangible becomes real.  

A year later, Collins is entering his sophomore season after averaging 15.8 minutes in 66 appearances as a rookie. And on the first day of his second training camp, the excitement remains, but the nerves do not.

“I was just talking to Coach Tibbs, I felt like last year it was a deer-in-the-headlights thing,” said Collins of his first day of his rookie training camp. “But this year I felt way more comfortable. Just felt like another day.”

Considering that Collins spent a significant amount of time during the offseason working out at the practice facility, it’s not surprising that the first day of 2018 training camp felt more routine.

“He’s got swag, he’s always had swag,” said CJ McCollum of Collins. “Going through a year in the NBA, figuring out how to improve his body, and then I think the confidence comes from the work. He’s put a lot of work in so it’s easier to be confident when you’ve prepared.”

Despite expectations that he would spend most of his rookie season learning from the bench, Collins assumed a regular role in the rotation by the midway point of the 2017-18 season. While that production was something of an unexpected bonus last season, Collins' contributions will need to rise above ancillary for the Trail Blazers to meet or exceed their 49 wins last season.

"I think you get more comfortable, more confident in yourself you stop thinking, and that’s when you become your best player, when you’re just out there reading and reacting," said McCollum. "I think (Collins) is at that point where he’s really, really comfortable defensively, he knows his position, he knows how to communicate. Playing with Ed (Davis) has helped him a lot because Ed’s very good defensively and a really good offensive rebounder. So I think he’s picked up a lot of stuff from him, then he just has a natural athletic ability of contesting at the rim. Obviously he’s quick, he’s able to finesse around the basket and has a nice jumpshot."

With Davis now in Brooklyn after signing this offseason with the Nets, Collins assumes the role of primary reserve in the frontcourt, and thus, is expected to build upon the strong play, particularly on the defensive end, that he exhibited in the second half of the 2017-18 campaign. And while the work he's put in during the offseason, both on the court and in the weight room, will surely play a large role in whatever success Collins achieves this season, knowing what to expect on the first day, which hasn't been the case the last two years, couldn't hurt either.

"Going into a first practice in high school, you don’t really know what to expect and then you do it and you’re there for four years," said Collins. "Going into Gonzaga, it was my first time, still had to learn that first day of practice. So it’s just one of those things where you’re always kind of nervous before something new, especially since this is the NBA, it’s my dream to be here, I was a little bit nervous. But this year I felt way more comfortable, obviously, going through the ringer. So I felt good."