Mark Few and the Gonzaga Bulldogs tip off the season in an exhibition game against Lewis-Clark State at 6:00 PM PT on Friday, Nov. 3 at the McCarthey Athletic Center. The game will be on KHQ in Spokane and ESPN+ for outside market fans.
With Gonzaga’s scrimmage against Baylor untelevised, this will be our first opportunity to see the majority of the Zags in action against an opponent other than themselves: with only Anton Watson, Ben Gregg, and Nolan Hickman having played for GU previously (outside of the walk-ons).
Our first look at Ryan Nembhard, Graham Ike, Steele Venters, Dusty Stromer, Jun Seok-Yeo, Luka Krajnovic, Braden Huff, and Pavle Stosic could be in the cards, giving us a near endless amount of storylines to follow this evening.
Here are five that stand out, as explained on Thursday’s episode of the Locked on Zags podcast.
1. How much does Graham Ike play?
I suspect Ike will play, after all he played against Baylor (according to reports) and coach Few was consistent in saying he’d be ready for the regular season. But there is also no reason to push him (or any of the starters) in an exhibition game, even with a week until the season opener against Yale on Nov. 10.
18-20 minutes from Ike is my expectation, and I’m looking forward to seeing how he moves and how the team utilizes him on offense, although I hope he spends a lot of time on the bench as well so he’s 100% for Yale.
2. How are minutes distributed between Dusty Stromer and Luka Krajnovic?
This is going to be one of the most interesting competitions in the early part of the season for Gonzaga. Ryan Nembhard and Nolan Hickman are going to play a lot of minutes at the two guard positions – and I mean a lot of minutes. Most of the minutes. Some games, maybe even all of the minutes. But a pair of freshmen in Dusty Stromer and Luka Krajnovic will compete for what minutes are left, and Friday’s exhibition against Lewis-Clark State should give us at least some indication of who is in the lead for those minutes.
Additionally, what roles will these two play? Will Krajnovic run point, will Dusty play off the ball? Could it be flipped? I suspect neither are true point guard options, but will be curious how they are utilized, and how often.
3. How ready does Jun Seok Yeo look?
Yeo joined the team back in January and the hype train has taken off in a big way for the South Korean star. However, he was quiet at Kraziness in the Kennel and reportedly didn’t do much in the scrimmage against Baylor, tempering expectations for the 21-year-old for now.
It could be another developmental year where he’s playing in garbage time, with a bigger role in the cards for next season. Or, perhaps he will emerge this year as a legit bench threat thanks to his length and touch. This game won’t give us all the answers, but it’s a start.
4. What ‘role’ does Anton Watson play?
Watson is obviously a massive, critical piece for Gonzaga in 2023-24. But how will he be deployed? Is he replacing Timme as primarily a back-to-the-basket scorer who is constantly fighting for position on the block? Or does he play away from the rim, being used more as a playmaker and facilitator? Do we see a lot of two-man action with Watson and Nembhard? Is Watson feeding Ike or Gregg from the top of the key? What about the outside shooting?
If you can’t tell, Watson’s usage is an incredibly intriguing topic for me this season.
5. How are Ben Gregg and Braden Huff utilized?
Both Gregg and Huff will play on Friday, and ideally both will play quite a bit. But, similar to the question with Watson, in what role? Both are billed as outside shooting threats, but will either of them be deployed under the basket? Who will be used more as a passer at the top of the key? And defensively, how do they look? Can Huff emerge as a rim protector? Will Gregg’s improved strength translate on defense?
If you want to join us in discussing the game throughout, click this link to join the Discord channel!
After three professional minutes in the NBA with the Philadelphia 76ers, former Gonzaga forward Filip Petrusev was included in a massive blockbuster trade, getting sent alongside James Harden and P.J Tucker to the Los Angeles Clippers in exchange for a haul of players and draft picks.
Harden is the obvious headliner here, moving to his fifth NBA team after a tumultuous 79 game stint in the City of Brotherly Love, where he averaged 21 points and 10.6 assists.
Petrusev’s inclusion in the deal was necessary to make the trade work financially, and it ends his tenure with the 76ers before it ever really got started. The Serbian was initially selected by Philadelphia in the second round of the 2021 NBA draft after he starred in his home country following a two-year stint in Spokane with Gonzaga.
He spent a few more years overseas before signing his first guaranteed NBA contract this summer, a two-year deal with a first year partial guarantee of roughly $560,000.
Petrusev didn’t play in Philadelphia’s first two games but logged a little under three minutes in the team’s blowout win over Portland, recording a rebound.
So now what? Well, according to multiple sources, the Clippers are not 100% committed to keeping Petrusev on the roster. The 6’11 big man slots in behind Kawhi Leonard, Ivica Zubac, Tucker, and Mason Plumlee on the team’s depth chart, and his contract makes him an easy cut should LA’s front office decide to move on.
It’s a tough part of the business, as Petrusev made close connections with the front office in Philadelphia and now may have to start over in his quest to find an NBA team willing to sign him to a guaranteed deal, or at least a two-way contract with the season already underway.
(This story is continuing to develop, check back with more updates on Petrusev’s basketball future)
Happy Halloween! The Gonzaga Bulldogs are just a few days away from their exhibition opener against Lewis-Clark State, and about a week and a half away from the season opener against Yale at The Kennel on Nov. 10.
In honor of the upcoming season, as well as the spookiest day of the year, I decided to write out my three “scary bold” predictions for the 2023-24 campaign.
To hear more on these predictions, check out the latest episode of Locked on Zags, linked below:
No. 1: Anton Watson leads the team in scoring, is an All-American
Watson has steadily improved his scoring each year he’s been at Gonzaga, going from 4.9 to 6.9 to 7.3 to 11.1 last season. He’s also steadily improved his three point percentage and volume of three pointers taken, and while he still has room to grow there (33.3% last year) it’s not crazy to imagine another jump up to 35+% and roughly 15-16 points per game.
No Drew Timme means more touches on the block for Watson, and going from Hickman to Ryan Nembhard at point guard should give Watson even more scoring opportunities, either on the block or in the pick and roll.
Factor in Watson’s transition ability and the lack of a go-to scorer on this team and Watson’s 16 or so points per game leading the team doesn’t seem all that bold. Nembhard and Graham Ike each figure to be in double figures as well in what could be among Gonzaga’s more balanced offensive attacks of the last decade or so.
All-American is a tougher mountain to climb, but if Watson leads Gonzaga in scoring and this team is anywhere near the top 10 in the AP poll he will get serious consideration, especially with his excellent defense, efficient offense and the lack of wings/power forwards he will be competing with for those spots.
No. 2: Nolan Hickman scores 30 points in a game…twice
Hickman’s career-high is 20 back on the road against Santa Clara last year, and across two years he has topped 15 points just four times. However, a transition back into an off-ball role should help Hickman’s offensive output in year three, with less pressure to be the team’s primary ball-handler thanks to the arrival of transfer Ryan Nembhard.
Additionally, Hickman showed he can get hot in a hurry, with a 5-6 shooting performance from deep against SMC in the WCC Tournament and multiple other games where he hit four or more threes. Hickman’s three point rate should bump up again in a different role, maybe even hovering around 40%, and an increase in two point percentage (he was 60.6% as a freshman in a two-guard role, compared to sub-50% last year) is enough for him to be a real threat to go for 20 on any given night.
If the clouds align just right and Hickman gets hot out of the gate, a couple 30 point gems seems possible and will certainly get the monkey off his back after a lot of criticism has been levied his way the past two years.
No. 3: Big East invites Gonzaga within calendar year
The Big East has a media deal through 2025, but most expect them to start renegotiating as soon as this winter. While conference leadership made it clear they are set at 11 members for now, commissioner Val Ackerman did discuss Gonzaga at media day, saying they are a natural fit for the Big East and they have stayed in contact.
Could the Big East realize, upon negotiating with FOX and CBS, that adding Gonzaga immediately gives each member institution deeper pockets? We know the Zags are among the five most watchable college basketball programs in America, with a TV power ranking just below Kentucky, Duke, Kansas, and North Carolina.
Of course, even if the Big East does decide to invite Gonzaga, they’ll have to convince them to join over the Big 12, which remains the big goal for the university. Could being in a more similar conference institutionally, and not being the only non-football school, be enough of a pull for Chris Standiford and company to accept an invite to head east? Time will tell, but don’t be surprised to see the Big East get involved here in the next 12 months.
(For more, click the link below or find Locked on Zags on your preferred podcast platform)
Former Gonzaga Bulldogs forward Rui Hachimura, now with the Los Angeles Lakers, will reportedly be featured in the popular anime series “Crayon Shin-chan” in a new episode which will release on November 4.
Hachimura will play himself in a cameo during the episode “The Adventures of Buri Buri Zaemon: Space Dunk Edition” where he will attempt to stop a massive meteorite headed toward Earth with the biggest slam dunk of his career.
The episode already has promotional images which feature the Lakers forward in traditional anime art style.
Hachimura and his family are reportedly big fans of the show, and a quote from Lakers Daily indicates Rui considers this cameo a “dream come true.”
Hachimura has been a sports icon in Japan since his monstrous All-American season at Gonzaga in 2018-19, when he averaged 19.7 points, 6.5 rebounds, and 1.5 assists while shooting 60.6% on twos and 41.7% from beyond the arc, leading to his selection at No. 9 overall in the 2019 NBA Draft.
Through three games in his first full season with the Lakers, Rui is averaging eight points and three rebounds in 14.7 minutes off the bench.
It took just two games for the hype train on former Gonzaga star and Oklahoma City Thunder rookie Chet Holmgren to reach warp speed.
After a solid but not overwhelming debut, Holmgren was an absolute menace on Friday in OKC’s 108-105 win over Cleveland, posting 16 points, 13 rebounds, and seven(!) blocks – leading to an absolute frenzy on the app formerly known as Twitter.
Chet not only posted legitimate record-breaking numbers for a rookie, his trailing three pointer to tie the game in the final minute helped lead the Thunder to a victory, and his confidence to pull the trigger on this shot and knock it down certainly made opposing NBA GMs and coaches sweat a little.
Holmgren’s 16/13/7 line is not only a first for a rookie in NBA history, it also comes with three three pointers made. The only other player to ever post that line, at any age, is Kristaps Porzingis who did it back in 2016.
After not blocking a shot in his debut, Holmgren racked up at least seven blocks in his second game, with many of them coming against fellow young, lanky big man Evan Mobley out of USC. Here’s a clip of all seven blocks, and a tweet from Holmgren implying he should have been credited for more:
For the sake of time I’m not going to link every tweet that implies Holmgren should be the Rookie of the Year, but let’s just say the Holmgren-Wembanyama debate could end up being an all-timer throughout this season.
Holmgren and OKC take the floor again on Sunday against Julian Strawther and the defending champion Denver Nuggets, with tip-off starting at 12:30 PM PT.
(Every once in a while I have to pull out an over the top sarcastic clickbait headline, so you’re welcome)
Three Gonzaga Bulldogs were named to preseason position award watch lists: Ryan Nembhard, Anton Watson, and Graham Ike. The total number of Zags is unsurprising, as are the specific players selected, but the positions are a little eyebrow raising.
Nembhard is of course nominated for the Bob Cousy Award as the nation’s top point guard, no surprise there, but Anton Watson’s nomination comes at small forward, while Graham Ike’s is at power forward.
What does it mean? Well, if we’re being honest, probably not much. Watson’s best chance at actually winning or finishing as a top five finalist this year likely comes with the Julius Erving Award, while Ike has a much better chance competing at power forward (Karl Malone Award) rather than at center, where Kareem Abdul-Jabbar finalists will include Zach Edey, Hunter Dickinson, Ryan Kalkbrenner, and Armando Bacot.
But it does lead to at least a little speculation, the kind of speculation one finds themselves pondering when it’s been roughly seven months since Gonzaga actually played a real basketball game against an opponent.
Could Watson realistically spend some time, or even a lot of time, at the three this year? Last year at around this time everyone was quite confident Julian Strawther was going to play a small ball four role, a la Corey Kispert, but that basically never happened with Watson emerging as the team’s power forward.
This year, with more uncertainty at the wing/guard spots and a relatively secure group of frontcourt players – thanks to the emergence of Ben Gregg last season – would it be possible for Watson to play the three? If he did, Ike and Gregg could play together in the frontcourt which would leave Nembhard, Nolan Hickman, Steele Venters, Dusty Stromer, and Luka Krajnovic to play the two guard spots.
The main question is how it would work offensively, where floor spacing could become an issue. Watson has improved dramatically as an outside threat across his four years with the Bulldogs, but he’s still only a 33% shooter from deep. Gregg is far superior, shooting about 38% last year, but do either of them have the ball-handling skills to play away from the rim for long stretches of time offensively? And is it better to just play two of them together, along with Venters and a pair of guards, to give Nembhard more room to operate?
Questions Mark Few no doubt has considered and experimented with this offseason, but as fun as it is to speculate, the award nominations likely don’t mean much with regards to how these players will actually be utilized when the season tips off on November 10 against Yale.
The first two days of the 2023-24 NBA season are in the books, and nearly every team has played their first contest of the year.
Eight former Zags already suited up for their first game of the season, with Julian Strawther (DNP) Brandon Clarke (injured) and Filip Petrusev (DNP) the three who have not.
It was a bit of a mixed bag as far as season debuts go for the eight former Gonzaga stars. Andrew Nembhard was the star, racking up a double-double with 12 points and 10 assists in just 22 minutes of action for the Indiana Pacers, where he came off the bench. More performances like that and he could push his way back into the starting lineup – or at the very least be in consideration for NBA Sixth Man of the Year.
Domantas Sabonis looked like an All-Star once again in his Kings season debut, posting 22 points, 12 rebounds, and five assists while tacking on two blocks and a steal for good measure.
Meanwhile, Chet Holmgren’s push for Rookie of the Year got off to a solid start, as the big man posted 11 points and four rebounds on 4-7 shooting in a blowout win for the Thunder. Those numbers aren’t exactly eye-popping, but Victor Wembanyama’s debut was about the same, while Blazers rookie Scoot Henderson struggled in Portland’s loss to the Clippers.
Below is a look at each Zags’ first game of the season:
Rui Hachimura – Los Angeles Lakers
15 minutes, 6 points, 3 rebounds, 3-10 shooting, 0-3 from deep
Julian Strawther – Denver Nuggets
Corey Kispert – Washington Wizards
24 minutes, 11 points, 5 rebounds, 1 assist, 4-11 shooting, 1-5 from deep
Andrew Nembhard – Indiana Pacers
22 minutes, 12 points, 10 assists, 4 rebounds, 6-9 shooting, 0-1 from deep
Jalen Suggs – Orlando Magic
21 minutes, 8 points, 4 rebounds, 3-12 shooting, 2-7 from deep
Chet Holmgren – Oklahoma City Thunder
25 minutes, 11 points, 4 rebounds, 3 assists, 1 steal, 4-7 shooting, 2-3 from deep
Brandon Clarke – Memphis Grizzlies
DNP – Injured
Domantas Sabonis – Sacramento Kings
22 points, 12 rebounds, 5 assists, 2 blocks, 1 steal, 8-14 shooting, 1-2 from deep
Kelly Olynyk – Utah Jazz
17 minutes, 5 points, 6 rebounds, 4 assists, 1 steal, 2-3 shooting
Zach Collins – San Antonio Spurs
32 minutes, 14 points, 5 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 blocks, 1 steal, 6-10 shooting, 0-4 from deep
Filip Petrusev – Philadelphia 76ers
DNP – CD
Mark Few and the Gonzaga Bulldogs, despite being a small institution in a fake conference (according to keyboard warriors on Twitter) have the fifth most players on NBA rosters as the season gets underway this week.
The Zags currently have 11 former players on NBA rosters on the first day of the season, tied with Michigan and behind Kentucky (26) Duke (24) UCLA (15) and Kansas (12) – a true crop of blue blood programs in this sport.
Rounding out the Top 10 is Arkansas, Arizona, Villanova, and Texas who each have 10.
Gonzaga’s ability to produce NBA talent is unprecedented, and what makes them so unique is they are doing it in a variety of ways. They aren’t just recruiting five-star talent and sending them off to the league after just one year in Spokane, although that is part of it with Zach Collins, Jalen Suggs, and Chet Holmgren representing three of the 11 Zags in the Association.
However, they also produce NBA talent from non-five star high school recruits, like Corey Kispert and Julian Strawther, as well as international talent (Domantas Sabonis, Kelly Olynyk, Rui Hachimura, and Filip Petrusev) and transfers who blossom in Spokane and become NBA players, like Andrew Nembhard and Brandon Clarke.
All this to say: if you come to Gonzaga, no matter how you get here and where you come from, your chances of becoming an NBA player are excellent.
And it’s worth pointing out this list of Zags in the NBA isn’t just filled with bench warmers and two-way players. Sabonis is the only current All-Star, but outside of Petrusev and Strawther every one of these players is either an NBA starter or key rotation piece off the bench, with the exception of the injured Clarke.
Petrusev will likely be a fringe rotation player for the 76ers while Strawther picked up a DNP-CD in his first game with Denver, but both should find minutes as the year goes on.
This list of 11 could increase throughout the year as well, with Drew Timme likely suiting up in the G-League with a real chance of getting signed to a two-way or even 10-day contract and eventually making his NBA debut.
For recruits considering Gonzaga (cough, Zoom Diallo, cough) don’t let the conference schedule fool you: this program develops high-end talent as well as just about anyone in the country.
For a brief time late in the summer of 2023, it felt like conference realignment discourse surrounding the Gonzaga Bulldogs was over. Big 12 commissioner Brett Yormark remarked that, after securing the four corner schools from the Pac-12 for the 2024-25 season, the conference was planning to evaluate their current member institutions before re-engaging in any realignment talk.
However, early into October the conversations were back at the forefront with Yormark pitching Gonzaga as a potential addition as soon as 2024-25, trying to capitalize on the school’s remarkable media success over the past six years while continuing to build the best college basketball conference in the country – a market share Yormark hopes to dominate for years to come in the Big 12.
Hurdles arose almost immediately, with many schools not wanting to rush into accepting Gonzaga right away while believing, in simple terms, that the leverage all rests with the Big 12 and there is little the small university from Spokane can do to force their way into a bigger piece of the financial pie.
Some leverage may have just fallen into Gonzaga’s lap, however, in the form of a quote by Val Ackerman, the longtime commissioner of the Big East, who addressed conference realignment and various other topics on Tuesday – including Gonzaga.
“There’s no better fit for Gonzaga than the Big East,” Ackerman said, according to a tweet from Zach Braziller of the New York Post. “If you look at the kind of school they are, basketball focus, their enrollment, their budget, it’s totally on point.”
Braziller also noted Ackerman saying the conference has stayed in touch with Gonzaga, although what exactly that entails is left intentionally quite vague.
Gonzaga to the Big East has been an oft-discussed match, although most of those discussions have been purely theoretical in nature, with limited proof of interaction between the two sides. The fit is quite obvious, as Gonzaga is a Jesuit Catholic institution that does not support Division 1 football and has enrollment numbers far inferior to the state schools typically associated with conferences like the Big 12.
Meanwhile, the Big East is a basketball-centric conference, loaded with similar academic and religiously affiliated institutions, and with only one football school in UConn – who play independently.
The big sticking point is travel, and even with Stanford and Cal joining the ACC – completely defying any geographical logic to conferences – this is a tough hurdle for Gonzaga to overcome. Big East schools are located, well, on the east coast, including Washington DC (Georgetown) Philadelphia (Villanova) New Jersey (Seton Hall) and of course the Big Apple (St. John’s).
While a few schools are further inland, like DePaul (Chicago) Marquette (Milwaukee) and Butler (Indianapolis) the closest schools geographically to Spokane is Creighton, which is located in Omaha, Nebraska – nearly 1,400 miles from Gonzaga’s campus.
Can that kind of travel situation work for Mark Few’s club? Perhaps, but what about the other Zag programs? Can baseball make weekly trips to the East Coast for three games, while also returning in time for regular Tuesday evening matchups? Will it work for soccer, or tennis? Can Gonzaga’s budget, which would almost certainly increase with a move to a more notable conference, withstand this added travel? Will student-athletes still keep up academically?
These are all the questions AD Chris Standiford, Gonzaga President Thayne McCulloh, and Big East leadership will have to weigh when considering this kind of realignment.
While talks don’t seem to be imminent between these two sides, as of right now, the mere presence of the Big East could put pressure on the Big 12 to make a move for the Bulldogs.
All this to say, never believe the dream of Gonzaga moving into a power-conference is dead. Things are changing on a minute by minute basis. Best to keep your head on a swivel.