Notre Dame star is an undersized force in the paint
Bonzie Colson is one of the country’s most unconventionally productive players, a post presence who barely tops out at 6'5" but fills scoresheets with bigger numbers. Colson’s averages of 17.8 points and 10.1 rebounds on 52.6 percent shooting earned him first-team All-ACC honors last year.
He grew up around the game — his father was a four-year starter at Rhode Island and an assistant coach at George Washington and Boston College — but never quite grew to his dad’s 6'10" stature. Still, Inspector Gadget-like arms (Colson has a 7-foot wingspan) and a boulder-sized chip on his shoulder drove Colson simply to find a way to make things happen on the court.
Athlon Sports talked to Colson about his unorthodox path to stardom, how he developed his identity and what awaits for his final season in South Bend.
What’s your earliest
I remember when my dad coached at GW, I was always running around the court with a basketball, I was always in the locker room. When my dad coached at Boston College, I was always hanging out with the guys in the locker room, I always wanted to play one-on-one with them. Spending time with them, that instilled in me wanting to be a basketball player.
What was it like being a coach’s son?
It was the best thing. I was always around the game. My dad wasn’t the type to always pressure me into playing the sport. He had his coaching lifestyle, but then he had his dad lifestyle. You see the difference of him yelling and screaming on the court and then being loving and caring. He never coached me. He didn’t coach my high school. He coached my AAU team a little bit. I remember in high school, he used to always sit in the middle of the court — he would yell here and there, but then I would look at him. He would give me a look here and there where I knew I needed to step it up and take over the game. But he wasn’t like a lot of those high school fathers who would yell and go crazy. We had a great relationship where if he said something, I did it right on the court — he gave me that look where I knew I had to change what I’m doing, or I need to pick it up a little bit more.
When did you know you had this ability to just find ways to score?
I don’t know. I’ve been blessed to have this knack for putting the ball in the hoop. People say I have all these unorthodox shots, but I practice those shots. I work on those shots. Just trying to develop your game, trying to improve your game year after year. Staying within your comfort zone. Being confident in what you can do and just playing with that edge — that’s something I try to do every game. The people I played with in AAU and high school, everybody had that edge and that swagger. That just translated to who I am today.
When did you realize you had to do things a little differently?
Well, I’m a little undersized, but I have that length that I use to my advantage. It’s shooting differently, creating contact and still being able to make the shot through contact. In college now, having one of my mentors, [Notre Dame assistant coach Ryan] Humphrey, has helped me develop my game to be able to hit tough shots. Having him there has really helped shape my game.
When did you realize, ‘OK, I’m 6'5". I’m not going to be 6'8" or 6'9"’?
I’ve always had that dream to be 6'8". My dad is 6'10". My sister has all the height. But I understood who I am. I’m blessed and happy and grateful to be 6'5". I got my own identity. That’s what makes me special. I’m not upset that I’m not 6'8". I’m doing everything I can to be successful, being this height, on the basketball court. Hopefully, one day, I can make my dream come true and play the game as long as I can. But I still have that hope, one day. That growth spurt can come whenever.
Were you tall when you were young, or were you always undersized?
I was always tall. Maybe I didn’t go through growth spurts like other people have. But I was always tall, and everybody kept growing. It just motivated me to play harder. I stuck with being a post player in AAU and now in college. It’s embracing this is who you are, this is how God made you. You have to do whatever you can to be successful.
You do have these crazy long arms. How does that work for you?
The funny thing is, I never realized I had long arms until I got to college. Now it’s like, Oh, we measured it, he has this huge wingspan. I never realized it. But it still comes down to having a nose for the ball and never giving up on a play, trying to use your arms to your advantage.
When they measured your wingspan for the first time, was everybody shocked?
Everybody was shocked. I came in, I was out of shape — I didn’t know what to expect. And then it was like, oh, this dude has a 7-foot wingspan. I didn’t think that much of it. And everybody kept talking about it. My teammates will say, ‘How does he hit those shots — the wingspan.’ It’s just who I am. It was nothing to me. It was just my arms, you know?
Favorite ACC gym? (other than Joyce Center)
Duke (crazy fans) & Boston College (family gets to visit)
Best player you’ve played against?
Jahlil Okafor (Duke)
Best defender you’ve faced?
Ben Lammers (Georgia Tech)
If you got to make the schedule, who would you want to play?
Any East Coast school — Providence, Rhode Island, UMass. Any team on the East Coast, just so my family can come down.
In terms of the recruiting process, was Notre Dame always going to be it?
It’s a long, stressful process. But having my dad, who’s been through the process as a college basketball player and also as a head coach, really helped me. I was going on my visits, trusting in the coaches, trying to play well on the EYBL (Nike Elite Youth Basketball League) circuit. I waited it out, and then I realized Notre Dame, they had a lot of undersized bigs — Luke Harangody, Jack Cooley. It was like, ‘Hey, you can tack on to that.’ This might be the place for me. I went on my visit, fell in love with the school, the campus, the education.
Did they sell you on their ability to train you to be a productive big man?
Yeah, but efficiency is big in our program. It’s part of our culture. And I think I was No. 1 [in efficiency] out of all EYBL players my junior/senior year. I was scoring really well. The funny thing is, Coach [Martin] Ingelsby wasn’t even the bigs coach. Coach Ingelsby said, ‘Hey, this kid is like a big, but he can do a little bit of both.’ Within our offense, it’s not really being a big unless you’re at the 5. You just play within the rhythm of the offense and have a feel. That’s who Coach [Mike] Brey recruits. He recruits guys who are intelligent, who understand basketball, who are efficient, who have a feel for the game. I think I fit well in that system.
Was there any critical adjustment you made to be a 20-points-per-game guy?
It just comes down to the coaching staff and your teammates giving you all the confidence in the world. We had a great chemistry on the court. You just understand who you are and keep developing your game — how to get out of traps and the different ways you can score the ball, because you understand how teams are going to play you. You get mentally ready for that, not overthinking anything. That’s what made our team special — we knew how teams were going to play us, so we adjusted to that.
Why did you elect to come back without testing the draft waters?
I was thinking about it. I didn’t put my name in. It wasn’t the right thing for me.
What’s on your checklist for this year?
I’ve been working on my dribble, trying to get my handles up a little more, trying to be a better leader. Just keep being within yourself and understanding who you are. At the same time, you have to develop your game more. You have to be able to defend and rebound and be consistent with those. If I just do what I have to do, if I continue to be consistent with that edge, play like every game is my last, who knows what’s going to happen?