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Trail Blazers Introduce Zach Collins and Caleb Swanigan

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Newest Trail Blazers Zach Collins and Caleb Swanigan meet the Portland media at the team practice facility in Tualatin.

David MacKay

Tualatin, OR — At 11:00 a.m. on Monday morning, the Portland Trail Blazers introduced the newest members of their team, Zach Collins and Caleb Swanigan, selected in Thursday’s draft. President of Basketball Operations Neil Olshey and Head Coach Terry Stotts accompanied them and fielded questions about the immediate future of franchise.

The Trail Blazers traded pick nos. 15 and 20 to the Sacramento Kings in order to draft Collins at no. 10. The 6’11” forward-center out of Gonzaga was their primary target from the beginning, and will make a fine addition to the roster.

After the conference, we spoke with Collins, briefly, about how far he’s come and how it feels to be here. This is what he told Blazer’s Edge:

Can you describe to me what it meant to you that a team wanted you enough to trade up and get you?

It definitely means a lot to know that a team wants you that bad, but it also comes with the territory. You got to perform and you got to prove them right. But it definitely meant a lot—especially with this organization that was so successful already and the fact that they wanted me and they wanted me that bad to trade up, it just means a lot.

What was that moment like for you when you heard your name called?

It was unbelievable. To be honest, during the moment I tried to make sure I just didn’t trip on the stairs on the way to shake the commissioner’s hand, but after I shook his hand and stood there and I smiled, I could just remember growing up and watching so many guys get drafted and thinking ‘That’s what I want to do.’ The fact that I was able to do it; it’s still surreal.

So did it then feel like a culmination of the last 19 years?

It definitely did. I think before I got to the draft, like, when I landed in New York, that’s when I felt it. Everything I’ve done up to this point has led to this point, and just for this to happen, you kind of get emotional about it at the time. You want to thank so many people and you kind of stress about that because, obviously, I’m not here by myself. You want to thank just so many people that helped you get to this point, and it’s tough.

What was the first thing your family said to you? How did they respond?

They were just really proud of me and, you know, from day one, they’ve always said that I’ve earned everything that I’ve gotten. I’ve earned things in high school, college, and now here. They always tell me not to ever let anyone make me feel like I didn’t earn it. They just always constantly remind me that to get here wasn’t easy; it wasn’t always sunshine and rainbows to get here, so they just remind me that everything I have, I worked for.

Can you describe one of those times when it was really tough?

Yeah, I mean, there was always times where—especially in middle school—where I felt like my value was because I was tall and that I could play basketball. And there was a time where I didn’t want to play anymore and I kind of felt like I wasn’t really useful. I kind of felt like ‘What’s my purpose if I can’t play basketball?’ Once I got around that mental hurdle, I was fine.

Was it just kind of that you were perceived as a novelty? Is that what you’re talking about?

What do you mean?

Just for your height.

Yeah, growing up, I never had a great growth spurt, so I was always kind of expected to be tall and to play basketball and I didn’t really know how to deal with it at that time. You know, middle school is a weird time, you’re still trying to figure out who you are, so all that kind of played into it as well.

And have any Gonzaga teammates reached out to you since being drafted?

All of them did. We still have a group Snapchat, group text, and they all told me congratulations and a couple guys FaceTime’d me. Coach Few called me the next day. Things with Gonzaga are great. I’m still in contact with them all the time.

Alright, it looks like we got to wrap it up here. Are there any NBA players you like to watch that you model your game after?

I watched Tim Duncan and Dirk Nowitzki growing up. Just the way that they can get to whatever shot they want on offense and the way Dirk can shoot and Tim—his fundamentals are crazy. The way they do it, how professional they are, how sportsmanlike they are; I think I’ll try to emulate that.

Thanks, Zach. Welcome to Portland.

We will get our first live look at Collins and Swanigan playing together at Las Vegas Summer League in July. They have already begun work in Portland.