At the turn of the millennium, Notre Dame’s Bonzie Colson would’ve had a bleak future in the NBA, but now there’s a chance he turns into a second-round gem.

Four-year college players are a dime-a-dozen nowadays. A myriad of factors play into their decision to stay at school, and most are centered around their ability to compete in the NBA. One-and-done players blend youth, athleticism and potential to shoot themselves up draft boards, leaving their older, more experienced counterparts for the teams who fall outside of the lottery. Notre Dame forward Bonzie Colson is one of those guys who likely won’t hear his name until the second-round, but he’s arguably the most intriguing prospect in this year’s class.

Colson returned to the Fighting Irish after a fabulous junior year. He averaged 17.8 points and 10.1 rebounds a night, both of which were career-bests. That play earned him a slew of honors, including a first-team All-ACC selection and a spot on the Associated Press’ All-American third team. Notre Dame finished 26-10 before losing to No. 4 West Virginia in the second round of the NCAA Tournament. This season, head coach Mike Brey is looking to make an extended postseason run, and Colson is going to be the one who takes them there.

“Bonzie needs to do a little bit of everything for us this year,” said Brey, according to a blurb on Notre Dame’s athletic site. The biggest thing is to have him enjoy the journey this year and not feel pressure. Everyone is going to come after him. He loves to win and is focused on that, and that is a great trait to have. It is up to me to find where to play him on the court throughout the game where he will be the toughest matchup.”

The Massachusetts native is building on his remarkable junior season by being more aggressive on both ends of the floor. Colson’s putting up 21.3 points a game while shooting 54.1 percent from the field. At the time of this writing, he’s tallied eight double-doubles on the year and is currently riding a streak of four from Dec. 9 to Dec. 21. Additionally, he’s shattering his previous career-bests in both blocks (2.3) and steals (2.0).  

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Colson’s early season highlights are back-to-back games of 29 and 37 points, his two highest marks this season. The first came against Indiana and the second against Dartmouth. It’s not bizarre to see him explode like this, and any prospect that can consistently give 20 points and 10 boards is usually a lock to go in the first round. Not Colson, though.

One of the most significant indictments against Bonzie Colson isn’t his size, but instead his athleticism. We’ve entered a time where undersized players can thrive if they’re as talented as their bigger counterparts. Colson stands 6-5 and carries around an incredible 7-0 wingspan. That’s elite length for an undersized power forward, and it’s why he can make an impact on defense without being a spectacular athlete. Moreover, Colson has a robust frame and tips the scale around 225, so he’s not someone who will get bullied when taken to the block.

He inhales all those rebounds because of the fundamental understanding of positioning. Those are the things that older college players use to their advantage later in their careers. That IQ level translates to the defensive end as well.

Colson’s upside, though, is on offense. He’s polished and doesn’t rely on athleticism to create buckets. That’s an encouraging sign from a player that could slip into the second-round. He may not make an impact right away, but the development staff won’t have to spend so much time sharpening his tools and can use that on another young player.

Being a behemoth to handle on the block, Bonzie Colson seals defenders and establishes position with relative ease. Once the ball gets dumped inside, he surveys, waiting to see how long it takes for the double to come. If it takes too long, he begins his attack. A few power dribbles are all it takes for Colson to get near the rim, and his right-handed hook is one of the most reliable shots in his bag. He can counter that with a variety of quick spins and drop steps, but his lack of quickness will limit the effectiveness of those moves at the next level. Colson will have to spend time learning how to either create space or draw fouls. And the ladder is something he’s already adept at doing.

Through 13 games, Colson’s attempted the fourth-most free throws in the ACC with 72. He converts at 77.8 percent. Both of those are excellent for a big.

Dec 5, 2017; South Bend, IN, USA; Notre Dame Fighting Irish forward Bonzie Colson (35) goes up for a shot as Ball State Cardinals guard Francis Kiapway (0) defends in the second half at the Purcell Pavilion. Mandatory Credit: Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports
Dec 5, 2017; South Bend, IN, USA; Notre Dame Fighting Irish forward Bonzie Colson (35) goes up for a shot as Ball State Cardinals guard Francis Kiapway (0) defends in the second half at the Purcell Pavilion. Mandatory Credit: Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

As dynamic as Colson is around the basket, that package is only going to carry him so far. The inability to shoot beyond 15 feet is a detriment to the team that plays him because just a few forwards get away with a lack of range. To supplement that production, they serve as incredible facilitators (Draymond Green). Colson averages one assist a night for his career, and that’s unlikely to change when he reaches the NBA.

I like being optimistic with college guys. Colson’s shot isn’t all the way screwed up, so there’s the chance he becomes a reliable shooter. As a junior, he went 26-of-60 from three for the season, a percentage of 43.3. That’s incredible. If Colson can give his team one three a night and maintain a clip between 35 and 37 percent, the coaching staff should be more than happy to let him roam around with his back-to-the-basket. It would also allow them to utilize Colson in a small lineup, like what the Golden State Warriors do with Green or the Brooklyn Nets with Rondae Hollis-Jefferson.

All three guys have varying skill sets, but they have the size and length to be effective defenders. Of course, Colson being the five in a four-guard lineup needs nearly-perfect circumstances, but they’re far more achievable given the current NBA landscape. If there are three or even four shooters on the court, that’ll create more than enough space to keep Colson open underneath. Additionally, the slew of wings allows for switching on the perimeter, something that Colson needs to avoid during his infancy in the league.

Outside of that, he can be a serviceable rim protector by being instinctive. If you look at Green, he’s not the most athletic guy, but he’s always where he needs to be. (No, this isn’t a direct comparison between Draymond and Colson. They’re just similar in specific ways.)

The college basketball season has yet to enter the stretch where the competition is most rigorous, so, until then, judging players is difficult. Bonzie Colson, however, has done this before. And he’ll continue to do it. He’s an exceptional basketball player with an NBA future, but the role is still unclear. His limited offense is easily-guardable, but the activity level on defense offsets that. As it stands, we’re looking at a mid-second-round pick who could turn into the steal of the draft if the situation is right.

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