Men's Basketball Begins Quest For Successful 2010 Campaign
Oct. 17, 2009
SPOKANE, Wash. - Gonzaga University's men's basketball team hit the practice floor Friday night to begin preparations for that they hope will be a tenth straight West Coast Conference regular-season title, a 10th WCC Tournament title in the last 10 years and a 12th straight trip to the NCAA Tournament.
Seven newcomers to the program and 10 players who have never played a minute of collegiate basketball greeted 11th-year head coach Mark Few and his staff for the start of practice.
"It's here, it's time to get locked down and get growing especially when you have a lot of new guys like we have," Few said. "There's a ton of teaching going on and hopefully a ton of learning going on."
The veterans, although few, have a solid resume.
Senior guard Matt Bouldin, a 2009 All-West Coast Conference and National Association of Basketball Coaches All-District 9 first-team selection, returns with his 13.6 ppg, 4.1 rpg and 3.4 assists/game to lead all returnees in those categories. He's on the John R. Wooden Award Pre-Season Top 50 Watch List. He started 33 of his 34 appearances a year ago, giving up his starting spot to one of the five seniors on Senior Night.
Junior guard Steven Gray averaged 27.0 minutes/contest while playing in all 34 games with 11 starts. He averaged 9.1 ppg 3.2 rpg and 2.1 assists/game. Fans still remember the shootout he had with Davidson College sharpshooter Stephen Curry in the 2008 NCAA Tournament first round, connecting on 7-of-12 3-pointers. He went 51-for-142 from long range a year ago for 35.9 percent, second on the team to only Bouldin's 55-for-130 for 42.3 percent.
Sophomore Demetri Goodson, who as a true freshman in 2009 hit one of the biggest shots in Gonzaga's short, but storied, NCAA Tournament history. His length-of-the-court drive and runner with 0.9 seconds to play gave the Bulldogs their 83-81 second-round win over Western Kentucky University to propel the Bulldogs into the Sweet Sixteen for the fifth time since 1999. Goodson averaged 13.4 minutes/game and had a 1.59 assist/turnover ratio last season last season, gaining more confidence and more minutes as the season progressed. He's the heir apparent to the point guard spot vacated with Jeremy Pargo's graduation.
Redshirt sophomore Robert Sacre, one of two 7-footers to dot the roster, returns and is healthy after playing just five early-season games before recurring foot problems shelved him for the season. Although cleared to make a return late in the 2009 season, the decision was made to apply for the medical hardship and give him three full seasons of remaining eligibility rather than burn a redshirt season.
And 7-5 senior Will Foster played a single-season career high in minutes and contributed some big minutes off the bench for the Bulldogs as a role player. He will be looked upon to contribute even more this season.
But, despite this talented group of returnees, Few would like to see a few more veterans.
"I'd rather look at seven veterans that have been here for four years," Few deadpanned when asked about the host of newcomers dotting the roster. "It changes the dynamics. There's more teaching, we'll have to go a lot slower with this group, a lot slower. A majority of the people on the floor are new to this program. You can't go as fast n practice. You are starting at a much lower level in terms of where you are in your offensive sets and defensive sets. You're starting with the basics. We'll be a very simple team for awhile."
Few greeted seven newcomers this season, perhaps the biggest incoming class in his 11 years as head coach and his 21 years overall in the program. But it might be one of the most solid recruiting classes ever at Gonzaga. The list of newcomers includes:
Mangisto Arop, F, 6-6, 220, Edmonton, Alberta
Sam Dower, F/C, 6-11, 228, Freshman, Brooklyn Park, Minn.
Elias Harris, F, 6-7, 215, Freshman, Speyer, Germany
Bol Kong, F, 6-6, 220, Sophomore, Vancouver, British Columbia
Kelly Olynyk, F, 6-11, 215, Freshman, Kelowna, British Columbia
David Stockton, G, 5-10, 150, Freshman, Spokane, Wash.
G. J. Vilarino, G, 6-0, 177, Freshman, McKinney, Texas
Arop, Olynyk and Harris gained some valuable experience this past summer playing internationally. Arop and Olynyk were teammates on Canada's Men's Junior National Team that competed in the FIBA U-19 Championships in New Zealand, while Harris played for Germany in the Europeans Championships.
"I think it helped." Few said of the international competition. "Manny had some great experiences, Kelly played. Elias, on the other hand, had some phenomenal games. He was playing with men. He was guarding Ronny (former Bulldog and current Golden State Warrior Turiaf who played for France) a couple of weeks ago. He's a little more ready than some of them."
But Few made no mistake about whose signature is on this team.
"It's Matt's team, but I've been trying to pull it out of Steven to get leadership out of Steven and hopefully that will show itself," Few said. "Obviously, Meech being the point guard would help if he would kind of step up to. This will mostly have Matt's stamp on it."
The return of center Rob Sacre, who played in only five early-season games a year ago before being sidelined by another foot injury, returns.
"Rob has had a phenomenal summer. I hope and pray we keep him healthy. He's already made a big jump and I think people are going to see he has improved," Few said.
Bouldin said this time of year is always exciting, but no different than any other year, and he likes the make-up of the newcomers.
"It's the same as every year. We're all excited to be out here and get going. We definitely have some new faces. It will be a different pre-season," Bouldin said. "Will and I were the only ones in our class and we felt alone, so I can't imagine how these new guys feel. They will definitely build names for themselves. I'm excited for this group, I think they have a ton of talent send will make things happen."
He's also looking forward to an expanded leadership role, but is quick to point out he won't be the only one looked to for leadership.
"I think this year's team is going to need me more as a leader. It's easier when you have a bunch of seniors like last year," said the senior from Highlands Ranch, Colo. "I was a leader but there were a bunch of others as well. This year there is more of a demand. We definitely will have to bring someone up. I think Steven and Rob will play a big role leadership wise. I think they have the experience and the talent to do that and I'm excited for them as well."
Few said next Saturday's (Oct. 24) Kraziness in the Kennel will be good for his younger players.
"The reason we are doing it this year is to get our young guys under the lights a little bit. It will be their first time collegiately out in front of people in a crowd so we want to get their feet wet," Few said.
The event starts at 5 p.m. in the McCarthey Athletic Center with the doors opening at 4 p.m. The event is free to the public and seating is available on a first-come, first-serve basis.
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