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Following recent visits with Tatum and Isaac, Suns work out Zach Collins

Gonzaga's Zach Collins reacts during the first half in the semifinals of the Final Four NCAA college basketball tournament against South Carolina, Saturday, April 1, 2017, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

PHOENIX — Publicly, the Phoenix Suns held a solo pre-draft workout with Gonzaga forward Zach Collins on Tuesday.

Privately, they’ve worked out or entertained Duke’s Jayson Tatum and Florida State’s Jonathan Isaac in the past week and may, according to reports, be heading to Sacramento later this week to watch a workout involving Kansas’ Josh Jackson.

All three are high-valued prospects and thus potential targets of the Suns, who own the fourth overall pick in the 2017 NBA Draft.

The Suns have been most often linked to Jackson, perhaps the best two-way player in the draft. That they may have to travel to see him in person appears to be the new norm. In recent years, more and more prospects, through their agent, are holding solo workouts or multiple-team workouts at a location of their choosing.

“Yeah, I’m not exactly sure what it is, but it is what it is,” assistant GM Pat Connelly said. “Any time we can get more time in front of anybody. We obviously prefer having them here but ‘will travel’, I guess, is the sign around our necks right now, so if we go get some more time with a guy we’ll happily go around (the country).”

Collins exploded upon the national scene during Gonzaga’s run to the Final Four. He recorded a double-double (14 points and 13 rebounds) and six blocks against South Carolina, and though foul trouble limited him to 14 minutes in the national championship game, he still had nine points and seven rebounds.

A week later, Collins, 19, declared for the draft, becoming the first one-and-done player in program history.

“Who knows if I didn’t play well in the tournament who knows if I would be here right now,” he said. “I definitely think that exposure, playing against great teams and winning really helped my draft status.”

The Suns, like most teams, don’t put too much stock in a player’s March-performance. They want to see consistent play throughout a consistent period of time. Yet, what Collins did, even in limited minutes, stood out.

As a freshman, coming off the bench, Collins averaged 10.0 points, 5.9 rebounds and 1.8 blocks in 17.2 minutes.

“He was a McDonald’s All-American, so it’s not like he was a guy that went to Gonzaga and nobody knew about him. His name was there and give him credit,” Connelly said, “He came in and played behind a really good player in (Przemek) Karnowski and accepted his role and was very productive all year, but obviously took that big step (in the tournament) especially in that semi-final game against South Carolina.

“He did a really good job of playing his role for a really good team and I think that helps him as he transitions to the NBA because he might face similar issues, like every rookie does, of getting his feet wet when he first comes in.”

Collins is intriguing, Connelly added, in that he can both stretch the floor with his shooting — “His stroke from NBA 3 looked really comfortable,” Connelly said — and is tough enough to be put around the. The 7-foot Collins does not shy away from contract, though at 232 pounds, he will need to get stronger, according to Connelly.

Listed as a forward, Collins, who has a 7-foot-1 wingspan and 9-foot-3 standing reach, believes he can be successful as a center, too.

“I think my ability to shoot and put the ball on the floor could help me out at the ‘4’ and then at the ‘5’ I think I can block shots, I can post-up, I can face-up, go around bigger guys so I think I can make a career at either position,” he said.

Before visiting the Suns, Collins had worked out with Minnesota, Orlando and Sacramento, and he was headed to Dallas for a workout with the Mavericks; all teams picking in the top-10, with the Suns slotted the highest at No. 4.

“Really it was just what me and my agent thought was best for me,” Collins said for why he chose to workout for the Suns. “I think, obviously, if you can prove to a team that has a higher pick that you can play, I think that’s a pretty smart thing to do. I think that’s what I did today.”

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— At the end of Tuesday’s workout, Collins was told to take a breather and then line up on the baseline for a three-minute run, something he had been warned about ahead of time.

“I hadn’t heard about it until I finished the workout with Sacramento and they were like, ‘Oh, you’re going to Phoenix that means you got the three-minute run.’ That’s the first time I heard about it,” he said. “And then I told my buddies that I was going to Phoenix, like buddies in the draft, and they were all like, ‘oh man, Phoenix is tough.’”

A bit tougher on Collins because a trip to Phoenix meant a return to where his Gonzaga Bulldogs season, and ultimately college career, ended just two months ago.

“Last time I was here, I fouled out and we lost the national championship so a little bittersweet,” he said, before adding with a smile, “but at the same time that was one of the best basketball weekends of my life just because the Final Four is such a great experience and I’ll never forget the memories I had with that amazing team we had this year.”

— Though not asked specifically about the Suns’ recent weekend trip to L.A. to watch Tatum workout, Connelly was asked what he liked about the Duke freshman, who averaged 16.8 points, 7.3 rebounds, 1.1 blocks and 1.3 steals in 29 games.

“He’s really skilled. He’s a really good shooter,” Connelly said. “As he came back from his injury at Duke, he showed that he was one of the better players in the nation down the stretch. Throughout the whole season he played really well, but really kind of found his feet later in the season. Good size; can do a bunch of different things.”

— Twice the Suns have visited with Isaac, once in Las Vegas and then again in Phoenix on Monday.

At 6-foot-11, Isaac offers a lot of potential. In his one season at Florida State, he averaged 12 points, 7.8 rebounds, 1.5 blocks and 1.2 steals.

“He’s long, he’s skilled, he’s multi-dimensional. He’s a really good kid. Obviously, the Florida State guys did a good job with him,” Connelly said. “I think another guy that can kind of really mix it up and doesn’t have really one specific skill that you can kind of say he relies on that. He can do a whole lot of things really well.”

— Thus far, the Suns have held seven pre-draft workouts, including three solo, that have been open to the media. And with the draft less than two weeks away, there have been no further workout media availabilities scheduled.

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