Irish freshman Bonzie Colson joins frontline mix

Tom Noie
South Bend Tribune

Dark blue curtains that separate the ramps off the Austin Carr Concourse to the basketball court in Purcell Pavilion were pulled shut one day last week.

But the bounce of a basketball and the squeak of sneakers on the other side was heard.

Peeking between the curtains, one could see the solitary figure of Irish freshman forward Bonzie Colson putting in work with a team manager. It was one of the final days of winter break, one of the last chances for Colson to sleep in at the nearby hotel the team calls home when campus is closed before the grind of the spring semester commenced.

Instead, Colson continued to work on his game with no promise that it would pay off with meaningful minutes in a meaningful Atlantic Coast Conference game for No. 12 Notre Dame.

“I just stay positive,” said the New Bedford, Mass., native who is averaging 3.9 points and 1.8 rebounds in 9.2 minutes over 12 games while working through six DNP-CDs (did not play, coach’s decision). “The coaching staff, my teammates always tell me to work hard and that my time will come. I just use that as motivation.”

Colson’s time was coming quicker than anyone figured. When starting power forward Zach Auguste missed Wednesday’s game at Georgia Tech to deal with an academic issue on campus – his status for Saturday’s sold-out home game against Miami (Fla.) remains sketchy – everyone with front-line size jumped up one notch in the rotation.

Colson was ready. When his number was called in midtown Atlanta, he more than answered. He kicked down the playing-time door that had often remained closed.

In a 62-59 victory over Georgia Tech that ran Notre Dame’s record to 16-2 and 4-1 in the ACC, Colson scored 10 points in 22 minutes, both career highs. He also grabbed four rebounds, including a key defensive one in the closing minute. Prior to that point, he had played a total of 88 minutes in mop-up roles when non-league games had long been decided and fans had headed for the parking lots. He hadn’t play a minute in the previous three league games.

Yet with his mind uncluttered and not concerned about minutes, Colson remained focused that one day, one game, his number was going to be called.

“Great things take time,” he said. “That’s the one thing I had on my mind – my time will come and you just have to work hard and play hard.”

And talk hard. Though he was often left on the outside of the rotation looking in, Colson didn’t stay silent from his spot near the end of the bench. He often could be seen – and heard – shouting encouragement to the five on the floor. He was one of the constant voices in huddles during timeouts and in the locker room at halftime pumping up the guys who were monopolizing the minutes to stay aggressive, keep battling and keep believing.

He continued to put the team first.

“He was still upbeat every day in practice; he was still working hard every day in practice,” said senior captain Pat Connaughton. “That’s a big thing. That shows he’s willing to do whatever it takes to win, whatever his role may be.”

Coach Mike Brey admitted that he carried some guilt about Colson ever since the late-November two-game swing through Mohegan Sun Arena Casino in Uncasville, Conn. Back in New England for the first time in his collegiate career and with family and friends in the stands, Colson didn’t play a minute against Massachusetts or Providence.

He had graded out as one of the most efficient players in preseason practice. He then hit the proverbial freshman wall in November while figuring out where he best fit in Brey’s system. When the Irish returned to campus following a four-day Christmas break, Colson’s role started to change. He spent more time rotating through in a white (starter’s) jersey. Prior to last week’s home game against No. 2 Virginia, Brey admitted that Colson was on his mind more with each passing day. His chance was coming.

Even then, Colson’s attitude never changed.

“He’s so pure,” Brey said. “I really believe that’s why he was able to deliver when we called on him.”

Colson delivered enough in Wednesday’s first half to earn a start in the second. Less than a minute in, play was halted as Colson went to the bench with a bloody face after taking an elbow from Georgia Tech big man Charles Mitchell.

At 6-foot-5 and 226 pounds, Colson gave up three inches, 72 pounds and 74 games of college experience to Mitchell. That made no difference. When it was time to stand his ground, Colson did.

“We’ve always felt good about Bonzie Colson because he fights,” Brey said. “Our guys rallied around him when he got bopped in the face and was bleeding.”

Colson also rallied. Once trainer Skip Meyer plugged the leak from Colon’s left nostril, the freshman returned to the floor and sank two free throws awarded when Mitchell was smacked with a Flagrant One foul.

“I didn’t want to go out there and be bullied,” Colson said. “I would sacrifice my body for the team. It was just a good feeling to be out there on the court.”

More good feelings soon may surface. There’s a good chance that for the first time in his Irish career, he’ll hear his name belted out over the public address system Saturday afternoon as one of the five starters. Brey wouldn’t commit Thursday afternoon to another lineup look, but he also couldn’t forget the boost that Colson offered to start the second half.

With Colson in the mix, Notre Dame shaved seven points off an eight-point deficit in less than three minutes. Notre Dame limited Georgia Tech to six second-half field goals. There was a different vibe about the Irish in the final 20 minutes than the first 20. That’s because No. 35 was involved.

“I really like how we started the second half with Bonzie in there,” Brey said. “We have momentum off that.”

As does Colson, though nobody would know it. Despite the one game bust-out, there’s still more work to be done. More loose balls to grab. More screens to set. More floor burns to accumulate. Colson got a taste Wednesday, but he’s still hungry. Really hungry.

“I’m just going to go out there, keep working hard, keep playing hard,” he said. “You always should be ready no matter what happens, no matter if things are going good or bad. Just be ready.

“I was ready.”

Hawkins honor

They remember.

Making his living and his life in Southern California for the last five decades, former Notre Dame men’s basketball forward Tommy Hawkins often wondered about his previous life back in the Midwest. The Chicago native and first African-American basketball player named All-American at Notre Dame, Hawkins wondered if everything he accomplished in college was remembered.

At 6-foot-5, Hawkins grabbed more rebounds (1,318) during his three-year career (1956-59) than anyone in an Irish uniform. His 1,820 career points still rank ninth in school history. He was a two-time All-American and first-round NBA draft pick by the Minneapolis Lakers in 1959.

On Saturday, during halftime of the Atlantic Coast Conference game between No. 12 Notre Dame and Miami, Hawkins will enter the school’s Ring of Honor.

Even the 78-year-old Hawkins wondered if the day might ever arrive. He accomplished much on and off the court during his collegiate career, but it was so long ago.

“I did what I did and I think it was significant, but I didn’t want to toot my own horn,” Hawkins told the Tribune last Halloween when the school announced plans for the ceremony. “You just wait for the call from someone at the university. It finally came.”

Hawkins joins former Irish standouts Austin Carr, Adrian Dantley and Luke Harangody along with coach Digger Phelps in the Ring. Carr and Dantley were obvious choices for the honor. In many ways, so was Hawkins.

“There’s never been more of a unanimous feedback to me than, ‘Tommy Hawkins, absolutely. What a great choice. Gotta do it,’” Brey said. “Really one of the great stories in our history.

“We’re all really proud of him.”

Notre Dame freshman Bonzie Colson waited for his chance to compete and contribute. When that call finally came Wednesday at Georgia Tech, Colson was ready, and delivered.SBT Photo/GREG SWIERCZ

WHO: No. 12 Notre Dame (16-2 overall, 4-1 Atlantic Coast Conference) vs. Miami (Fla.) (12-4, 2-1).

WHERE: Purcell Pavilion (9,149).

WHEN: Saturday at 2 p.m.

TICKETS: None available. The game is a sellout.


RADIO: WSBT (960 AM, 96.1 FM).

ONLINE: Follow every Notre Dame game with live updates from Tribune beat writer Tom Noie at

WORTH NOTING: Kansas State transfer Angel Rodriguez scored 24 points with five assists and five steals and Manu Lecomte added 23 points in 28 minutes off the bench to lead Miami to a 90-74 victory Tuesday at No. 4 Duke. The Hurricanes shot 66.7 percent from the field and 66.7 percent from 3 in the second half, when they scored 56 points. … Miami's lone league loss was in double overtime at home to No. 2 Virginia. … Picked in preseason to finish 10th in the ACC, Miami returns two starters off last year’s team that finished 17-16, 7-11 and 10th in the ACC. … Miami has lost at home by 26 points to Eastern Kentucky and by 14 points to Providence at a neutral site. … The Hurricanes are 3-0 on the road with victories at Charlotte, Duke and Florida. …. They have been ranked as high as No. 15. … Miami is fourth in scoring defense (61.4), ninth in scoring offense (69.8) and 14th in rebounding margin (+0.4) in the ACC. … Rodriguez is averaging 22 points in league play. … Junior-college transfer Ivan Uceda is eligible to make his collegiate debut. The 6-foot-10 junior averaged 14.6 points and 9.6 rebounds last season. … Junior Tonye Jekiri leads the ACC in rebounding at 9.9 per game. … Notre Dame ranks 13th in the ACC for 3-point field goal percentage defense (32.8). Miami is 14th at 33.1. … The Irish rank first in the league in 3-pointers made (8.9 per game); the Hurricanes rank second at 8.1. … Notre Dame is off to its best start since opening 17-2 in 1978-79. … The series is tied 8-8. … The Hurricanes last won in South Bend on Jan. 25, 2000. … The Irish have trailed by double-digits in the first half in their last two league games and three of the last four. … Irish assistant coach Anthony Solomon served as an assistant under Miami coach Jim Larranaga for three years (1989-92) at Bowling Green. … Notre Dame returns to action Thursday at Virginia Tech.

WORTH QUOTING: “We’re playing against the best offensive team in America right now. That means our defense is really going to be challenged.”

-Miami coach Jim Larranaga.