Noie: It's NBA 'go time' for former Notre Dame PF Bonzie Colson

Tom Noie
South Bend Tribune

{child_flags:featured}‘It’s go time now’

{child_byline}By Tom Noie

South Bend Tribune{/child_byline}

{child_flags:featured}‘It’s go time now’

{child_byline}By Tom Noie

South Bend Tribune{/child_byline}

Back on campus last weekend for the first time since graduation, former Notre Dame power forward Bonzie Colson declined any desire to bounce back in time.

If he had to do it all over again, he’d do it the same way. Grind his first two years. Learn about life in big-time college basketball. Grow his game, get it to blossom. Ignore any notion that he should leave early for the NBA after a big junior year. Return for his senior season, even though it twice was torpedoed by a broken left foot.

Regrets? Colson carries few that are basketball related. What good would it do now? It was his decision to return for his senior year. It was his belief that he would stay healthy. That the Irish wouldn’t lose seven straight while he sat. That his college career wouldn’t end hobbling back ONTO the court after the second break of the fifth metatarsal against Penn State in the second round of the National Invitation Tournament. That would be that when his four years were up. Accept it, embrace the overall college experience, grab his degree and move on. In hoops. In life.

“Honestly, what happened was unfortunate, but everything happens for a reason,” Colson said. “You never know with life. It can throw you some curve balls. But you’ve got to understand that God has a better plan for you.”

Colson jumps into that plan this week. A broken foot in March all but assured that he wouldn’t be selected in the two-round NBA draft on June 21. He wasn’t. It also all but guaranteed that he wouldn’t be physically ready to show his stuff in the all-important Las Vegas Summer League. He wasn’t. He quickly signed post-draft with the Cleveland Cavaliers. But while the rest of the league’s attention in July centered on the Nevada desert, Colson was back east getting his foot and his mind and his game right in New York City. Working out with a handful of NBA guys including Doug McDermott and J.J. Redick. Even crossing paths for the first time ever with fellow former Irish power forward Ty Nash, a New York native and long-time European pro who spent two weeks at the ProHoops facility.

“It was good to get another Notre Dame guy out there, pushing each other,” Colson said. “I learned a lot from him.”

The 6-foot-6 Colson worked on extending his range beyond the NBA 3-point line. He worked on making sure his foot was sound (100 percent, he said). He worked on reshaping his body and is down to 215 pounds after carrying 224 last season.

The last nine months have been a rough basketball go for someone who for so long had made it look so easy. He could score in ways few other Irish could. He’d rebound. He’d compete. He carried that “junkyard dog” mentality that helped him bully his way into the rotation as a freshman on a team that finished 32-6. He ended his collegiate career ranked in the program’s Top 15 of 10 statistical categories. He scored 1,632 points. He grabbed 900 rebounds. He tallied 34 double doubles for points and rebounds.

Sitting out 15 games last season forced Colson to traverse a different NBA route. It was a rocky road. Going undrafted was difficult. So was skipping summer league. But he still believes. In himself. In his game. In his future.

“That hasn’t deterred me,” he said of the foot setbacks. “I’m staying focused with what I need to do to make my dreams come true. I’m here and have a great opportunity in front of me with Cleveland.

“I’m excited about it. I want to get better.”

The next step

The Cavaliers were one of the first teams to reach out to Colson following the draft. They wanted him as a free agent. They were willing to give him time and space to rehab his foot (he wasn’t medically cleared until early June). They opened their doors for him to work out, to learn the organization’s culture. To be a part of the family. To be a pro.

Colson left Tuesday for Cleveland assured of nothing. The Cavaliers have 12 players under contract for 2018-19. Three rosters spots are available. Colson could earn one outright. He could show enough to go on a two-way deal with the team’s G-League affiliate in nearby Canton. He might not make it at all. But all he’s wanted is a chance. This week, he gets it.

“Cleveland has stuck with their word since they picked me up,” he said. “I’m thankful for that. Now it’s time to go and do my thing.”

Before he did that, Colson wanted to do his thing one more time at Notre Dame, if only for a brief period. Saturday was the first time Colson played on the Purcell Pavilion floor since he walked back on and off it in the closing seconds of the Penn State game. And, like that day, he got hurt.

Early in Saturday’s scrimmage sessions that also included fellow former Irish V.J. Beachem, Pat Connaughton and Demetrius Jackson working against current players, Colson caught an elbow from Irish power forward Elijah Burns. It opened a gash on his right cheek. It necessitated a trip to the trainer’s room, where it was glued shut. Colson eventually returned as a spectator. He had thought about not playing at all when the day arrived, but knew he would. He had to, especially since the last time he was on the court to play, he was injured.

It’s a memory he can’t shake.

“I was excited to get back out there,” he said. “I wanted to play, get up and down for myself, work on the things that I need to work on. It’s good to be back.”

Good, yes. But odd. Last time Notre Dame scrimmaged in front of fans on a football weekend, Colson was the big dog. The ACC preseason player of the year and potential All-American. The guy everybody wanted to see. On Saturday, he was just another alum getting some run, getting fouled, getting his shot swatted. It was…different.

“Yeah, I miss it,” he said. “If someone says they don’t miss it, they’re lying. I 100 percent miss the environment, the food, the talk, the guys in the locker room, the community. The first time being back is always weird, especially when you’re not with your guys in your class.”

Those would be former teammates Martinas Geben and Matt Farrell, Colson’s best friend since their first day as freshmen. Both are playing professionally in Lithuania. Colson talks with Farrell basically every day and routinely checks in with Geben. There’s plenty of time for it, something Colson has discovered in his post-college life. There’s no more classes to attend, no more homework. It’s all basketball all the time. Sometimes, there’s too few hours in the day. Others, too many. To pass them, Colson will read and watch NetFlix and think about his basketball odyssey. The one he’s on now. Time to go prove he’s a pro.

“I have a great opportunity to make a lot of things happen,” Colson said. “I’m ready for the next step and I’m ready to get to work.

“It’s go time now.”

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tnoie@ndinsider.com

574-235-6153

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Twitter: @tnoieNDI