Blue and Gold Illustrated

April 2017

Blue & Gold Illustrated: America's Foremost Authority on Notre Dame Football

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www.BLUEANDGOLD.com APRIL 2017 51 BY MATT JONES H e lacks the imposing figure of some of the country's top tal- ents and the flash of an NBA lottery pick, but Notre Dame junior forward Bonzie Colson is un- doubtedly one of college basketball's top players. The Irish are hoping the under- sized big man can carry them on an- other NCAA Tournament run. With a wide array of post moves and an ever-improving outside shot, Colson is perhaps the most unique weapon in the college game. The New Bedford, Mass., native doesn't look like much — standing just 6-5 and 225 pounds — but his statistics stack up with the best. Entering Notre Dame's NCAA Tournament game March 16 against Princeton, Colson was averaging 17.5 points and 10.2 rebounds per game for the Irish (25-9). He was named first-team All-Atlantic Coast Conference and finished third in the league's Player of the Year voting. In the ACC Tournament's champi- onship game against Duke, he tallied an impressive 29 points, on 12-of-21 shooting, and nine rebounds. "It's one of the great performances in championship game history," Notre Dame head coach Mike Brey said. "Now, our fans don't know about the history of the ACC cham- pionship game. We've been in the league only four years. "But what he did, willing us and keeping us in it, and making big plays and chasing down loose balls, it's a great performance. And he's so confident. He's a tough matchup now that he can step up and make jump shots." Colson's game is only getting bet- ter and more versatile. Since Brey moved to a four-guard starting lineup that spreads the floor and opens up driving lanes, Colson has become a deadly outside shooter. He's shooting 40.7 percent from three-point range this season, includ- ing a pair of clutch makes in the loss to Duke. Colson is one of 15 finalists for the Wooden Award and on the Naismith Award top 30. He's the lone player on both lists to shoot better than 50 percent from the field and 80 percent at the free throw line, average more than 10 rebounds per game and block at least 40 shots. "Unbelievable what he does only being [6-5]," Irish junior point guard Matt Farrell said. "Against guys like that, and he's got to do it every night, I honestly think it's incredible what he does." ESPN analysts Doris Burke and Jay Bilas raved about Colson during the ACC Tournament. Both highlighted Colson as a matchup nightmare, a player able to score with his back to the basket against smaller post play- ers and drive past big men. He's dangerous because of his 7-foot-2 wingspan. That long frame has helped carry him from playing 12 minutes per game as a freshman to becoming arguably the best player in the best conference in the country. "Coming in, I was always the undersized power forward … and Coach Brey kind of downshifted our lineup," Colson told Yahoo Sports at the ACC Tournament in Brooklyn, N.Y. "I can post up a little bit, I can play on the perimeter and we're just kind of using that to our advantage on the offensive end. "And on the defensive end, [I'm] guarding bigger guys, so I have to play with a lot of heart and just use my height and wingspan to my ad- vantage." One of Colson's most impressive performances of the season came against Wake Forest Feb. 7, an 88-81 Irish win that snapped a four-game losing streak. Colson had 27 points and 16 rebounds while defending Demon Deacons sophomore forward John Collins, a likely first-round pick in the 2017 NBA Draft. Colson rose to the challenge, some- thing he's made a habit of this year. "That's my role, and I want to be that," Colson said. "I want to be that guy who goes out there and gives it all and tries to get every rebound. That's something that me and Coach [Ryan] Humphrey [knew] as soon as he got the job, that we have to do this and I'm focused and locked in on every rebound possible." Brey has nicknamed Colson the "junkyard dog," because of his scrappy playing style. That could carry him onto the next level. Brey said he's had discussions with Col- son's family about entering his name into the NBA Draft after the season, but he's not sure if Colson will even do that. Brey said he had to push senior wing V.J. Beachem to enter his name last summer. "Maybe of all the guys that I've had, I'm less worried about dis- tractions of, 'Is he an NBA guy?' or 'Should he test the waters?'" Brey said of Colson. "He has been very fo- cused and the family has been, 'He's a four-year guy, he needs four years.' "That's probably true, but we've got to sit down and have an open mind and really talk about things and see if he wants to put his name in." Notre Dame fans will likely see what Colson can do for an encore as a senior. First, he has his sights set on another impressive NCAA Tourna- ment run. ✦ BONZIE COLSON BY THE NUMBERS 1 Other Notre Dame player besides Colson has made first-team All-ACC. Former Irish point guard Jerian Grant achieved the feat in 2015. 1.4 Blocks per game by Colson, the seventh-most in the ACC and most for a Notre Dame player since Jack Cooley averaged 1.6 per game in 2011-12. 2 Times Colson was named ACC Player of the Week this season. He achieved that feat Feb. 13 and Dec. 5. 6.4 Points per game improvement made by Colson from his sopho- more to junior season, going from 11.1 last year to 17.5 this season while playing about seven more minutes per game. 15 Career 20-point games by Colson, which includes a career-high 33 against Florida State this season. 19 Double-doubles posted by Colson this year, 11th-most in Division I. That leads the ACC and is fourth-most among Power Six conference players. Purdue's Caleb Swanigan (26) led the country. 1957 The year South Carolina's Grady Wallace led the ACC in rebounding at 14.4 per game, the last time a player 6-6 or shorter did so. Colson achieved that feat this year, grabbing 10.2 rebounds per contest. Colson finished first in the ACC in rebounding (10.2 per game), seventh in blocks (1.4 per game) and 10th in scoring (17.5 points per game). PHOTO BY JOE RAYMOND

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