After learning experience in year one, Hunter Sallis is ready for his close-up

With a new era of transfer portal madness upon us, it’s unusual to see a blue chip, five-star prospect play just 13 minutes per night as a freshman and still be in the same uniform the following season.

But that’s what makes Hunter Sallis – and Gonzaga – a little different. The program’s ability to get players to buy in has always been excellent, but now they have moved into the 5* star recruit territory, which makes it even more impressive. Sallis had a clear understanding of his role last season and while he admitted the year didn’t quite go as he planned, he knows it was good for him in the long-term.

“I had a role last year, my role was to come in and play defense,” Sallis told Matt Foster of KETV Omaha. “And when I had my opportunities to score, take it.”

Sallis averaged 4.3 points, two rebounds, 0.6 assists and 0.6 steals per game last year, while playing a reserve role off the bench – primarily as a defensive specialist. Sitting behind Andrew Nembhard and Rasir Bolton, Sallis and fellow five-star freshman guard Nolan Hickman were put into roles largely unfamiliar to them coming out of high school. Fortunately, instead of packing up and finding a new place to play, Sallis recognized he got a lot out of his first year in Spokane.

“I’d say last year was more like a learning experience,” Sallis continued. “I got to sit behind one of the best guards in the country, Andrew Nembhard. It didn’t go as I planned, but it was good for me because now I have a whole year under my belt.”

Nembhard is no longer in the picture, but Gonzaga still has plenty of guards competing for playing time this season. Rasir Bolton returned to use his final year of eligibility, while Hickman remains in the fold alongside Dominick Harris – who was out all of last season with an injury – and incoming transfer Malachi Smith, who scored 20 points per game for Chattanooga last season.

The competition isn’t deterring Sallis from believing in himself heading into next season – and he is looking to be next in a long line of Gonzaga stars who have exploded onto the scene as sophomores after waiting their turn in year one.

“Oh I’m expecting to take a big jump,” Sallis said. “I’ve been in here working a lot and they have a lot of trust in me a lot of faith in me. I’m really excited for this next year.”

Mark Few is going to have some tough decisions to make in order to find playing time for every deserving player on this roster, but that comes with the territory. Sallis’ defensive intensity, otherworldly athleticism, and hunger to improve the areas of his game that were lacking last year (namely outside shooting) should earn him a significant role in year two – one that could be enough for him to jump into the NBA draft conversation.

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