Men's Hoops Opens Exhibition Season

Oct. 31, 2006

SPOKANE, Wash. - Gonzaga University's men's basketball coach Mark Few and his staff will get their first look at the 2007 version of the Bulldogs on Wednesday when Augustana College of Sioux Falls, S.D., visits the McCarthey Athletic Center.

Gametime is 7 p.m. The game can also be heard on 1510 KGA. There will be no television coverage.

Augustana went 12-16 a year ago under Tom Billeter who begins his fourth season on the Vikings bench. The Vikings return four starters, including senior guard Joey Ryan who averaged 11.7 ppg and shot 88.6 percent from the free throw line, and 6-7 senior forward Nick Olson who averaged 11.5 ppg and a team-high 4.4 rpg. Ol,son was an All-North Central Conference first-team pick while Ryan earned honorable mention honors.

Other returnees are junior center Mike Klepatz who averaged 8.6 ppg and 4.1 rpg and 6-8 junior center Tom VerDouw who averaged 4.8 ppg and 3.2 rpg.

"This will be a good test," Few said. "At this time of the year you always want to play against somebody other than yourself. We're just trying to get better."

A new era of Bulldogs basketball will also be launched.

Never has Gonzaga University had the Mr. Inside, Mr. Outside punch on offense the Bulldogs had in 2006 with consensus All-American Adam Morrison and the Brazilian Beast in J.P. Batista.

Morrison became the second Gonzaga player in school history to lead the NCAA Division I ranks in scoring with his 28.1 ppg, while Batista kept opposing defenses honest down low with his deadly hook shot and deceivingly accurate jumper while averaging 19.1 ppg.

Morrison became the second player in program history to leave after his junior season and declare for the NBA Draft, going as the No. 3 pick, while Batista looks to take his game to the next level after two of the most solid years turned in by a JC transfer.

But does that mean Few is throwing in the towel on the 2006-07 season?

Far from it.

"I've always said that is one of the challenges of coaching at the collegiate level," Few said. "Players come and go and each team must take on a personality of its own. Last year's team belonged to Adam and J.P. We'll just have to wait and see who emerges this season."

Does Few believe he'll have two players with the offensive numbers Morrison and Batista posted last season?

"I don't think you ever go into a season expecting two guys to do what those two accomplished," Few said. "It was certainly a season to cherish."

What Few and the Bulldogs cherished was a 29-4 record, a No. 5 ranking in the final Associated Press Top 25, a No. 10 slot in the final ESPN/USA Today poll, a third seed into the NCAA Tournament, an eighth straight trip to the NCAA festivities and a fourth Sweet Sixteen appearance since 1999."

But who will be called upon to bolster an offense that loses 47.3 ppg of the 80.1 ppg the Bulldogs averaged last season?

One guy who will be looked to is senior point guard Derek Raivio. He averaged 11.1 ppg last season, slightly down from his 13.0 ppg as a sophomore in 2005. But the Vancouver, Wash., native never really returned to form after suffering a back bruise at the University of Washington in the sixth game of the season that sent him to the sidelines for the next two games. He averaged 7.1 ppg in West Coast Conference play, less than half of the 15.7 ppg he put up as a sophomore.

"Obviously, Derek never returned to form after the injury, although he did have a couple of flashes of brilliance where we thought he was going to turn the corner. But while his offensive numbers were down, he was still a leader and got the ball into the hands of the right people and continued to do a solid job of running the offense.

"We need his offense to return this season to what he showed as a sophomore and for the rest of his game to continue to improve and take another jump," Few said.

Raivio averaged 2.8 assists per game last year, at first glance numbers that would appear to be sub-par. But his 1.89 assist-to-turnover ratio would dispute that, as would the supporting cast the Bulldogs had on what was an excellent passing team.

Junior Pierre Marie Altidor-Cespedes returns after making great strides last season. His offense doubled from 2.0 to 4.2 ppg as he continued to look to the basket much more than he did as a freshman when the coaching staff was constantly urging him to take the open shot, and he averaged 2.6 assists. His biggest shot last season was a 3-pointer from the right corner at the buzzer for a 75-72 home win over the University of San Francisco.

"You wouldn't think a staff would be ecstatic with 4.2 points-per-game from a player," Few said. "But we think Pierre made great strides offensively last season and we look for him to have even a bigger role in the offense this season."

Also out front the Bulldogs return sophomore guard Jeremy Pargo who averaged 17.1 minutes/game 2.0 assists as a true freshman and who the coaches believe has a great up side.

"Sure, Jeremy looked like a freshman at times last year, but he really learned the system and got better as the season went along. We weren't looking for him to score last year, that wasn't his role. But we look for him to be more of an option this year. He will continue to improve and grow and become a vital part of this team," Few said.

Underneath the Bulldogs return some tested veterans, although they played in the shadow of Batista last season and Ronny Turiaf and Batista the previous year.

Sean Mallon, a 6-9 senior forward from Spokane, averaged 6.8 ppg and 4.5 rpg last season while starting 32 of 33 games, the lone non-start at home on Senior Night.

He is a career 53.8 percent shooter from the field, and his 50.6 percent last season joined Batista (58.9 percent) as the only Bulldogs to hit for better than 50 percent from the floor.

"We think Sean will be one of those players who really puts together an outstanding senior season," Few said. "He's been a solid player for us since his first game as a freshman in Madison Square Garden. I think Sean was as much a key to our success last year as anybody on the team. He knew his role, accepted it and performed it every night."

Junior David Pendergraft, who might best be described as the "blue collar" workhorse of the Bulldogs, averaged 17.8 minutes/game off the bench while appearing in all 33 games last season. He's better than a 50.0 percent career shooter from the field in his two years, but more importantly last season averaged 4.0 rpg for fourth on the team.

"David grabbed a lot of big rebounds for us last season," Few said. "We think his offense will also continue to develop to complement the other phases of his game."

Two other freshmen saw plenty of minutes for the Bulldogs last season. Redshirt freshman Josh Heytvelt returns for what he hopes will be an injury-free season in 2007, and true freshman Larry Gurganious looks to add to his resume his sophomore campaign after appearing in 31 of 33 games off the bench last season.

Heytvelt, who missed most of fall camp while battling a pre-cursor to a stress fracture that forced him to miss two exhibition games and the season opener, was just coming into his own when suffering a broken left ankle in just his third game against the University of Connecticut on Nov. 23 in the title game of the EA Sports Maui Invitational. He had 9 points and 4 rebounds against UConn prior to the injury, and came back to see action Feb. 11 against Stanford University.

Gurganious was called on early to see action when senior Erroll Knight missed the first eight games of the season with a nagging knee injury, and was even pressed into further action when Heytvelt was sidelined.

"I can't say enough about what those two players accomplished last season," Few said. "For Larry to step in like he did to help solve our depth problem, and for Josh to work so hard to get back into game shape so soon after the injury spoke highly for both of them. We're looking for big years from both of them. They are two of the best athletes on this team, along with Jeremy."

While Few and his staff molded several newcomers into the mix last season, they'll be called upon to groom several more newcomers for action this season.

Freshmen Matt Bouldin, Will Foster and Theo Davis will be joined by JC transfer Abdullahi Kuso; 4-year transfers Micah Downs and David Burgess, and redshirts Andrew Sorenson and Jordan Mast.

Bouldin, a 6-5 guard, averaged 25.4 ppg for ThunderRidge High in Highlands Ranch, Colo., outside of Denver. ThunderRidge advanced to the Sweet 16 of the Colorado State 5A Tournament after being State 5A runners-up the previous two seasons. Bouldin played on the State 5A title team in 2003. He's also a Gatorade State Player of the Year selection, and was also a second-team All-Continental League pick in baseball this past spring.

Foster is 7-4 who blossomed his senior campaign. After averaging in single-digit numbers as a junior at White River High, Foster averaged 17.5 ppg and 14 rpg this past season.

Davis was admitted late in the summer, the 6-9, 220-pound native of Brampton, Ontario, joining the Bulldogs from Lutheran Christian Academy in Philadelphia where he spent the last two years.

Kuso is a 6-9, 220-pound forward who comes o the Bulldogs from Tallahassee, Fla., Community College. The native of Kaduna, Nigeria, averaged 13.4 ppg, 8.3 rpg and 1.8 blocks/game as TCC finished second in the National Junior College Athletic Association Tournament.

"I think those three have a bright future in this program. Each elevated his game this past season, and all three are going to contribute at this level," Few said of his three latest letter-of-intent signees.

Downs, a 6-8 guard who was a McDonald's High School All-American, came off the bench in 13 of the first 16 games for the University of Kansas last season, averaging 11.7 minutes/game, 4.3 ppg, 2.2 rpg and 1.0 assists prior to transferring to Gonzaga at the semester. Downs had to sit out the second semester last spring and won't be eligible to play until first-semester finals are completed this December.

Burgess, a 6-10 center, was another mid-season transfer, coming to the Bulldogs from Brigham Young University. He received a medial redshirt for the 2005 season after having ankle surgery and appearing in just two games for the Cougars. Last season he played in three of the first seven games prior to deciding to transfer to Gonzaga. Like Downs, he won't become eligible until the conclusion of finals in December.

"These are two players with a great upside. Downs was one of the most highly recruited players in the country two years ago, and Burgess is a rugged inside player who can also play away from the basket. We recruited both of them out of high school and are glad to get them now," Few said.

Davis (shoulder), Burgess (knee) and Downs (foot) have all been injured this fall. Davis isn't expected to return until sometime in December, and there always exists the possibility of him redshirting.

Sorenson and Mast will vie for playing time. Sorenson is a 6-3 guard from Olympia, Wash. He tried out for the team in open tryouts prior to the 2004-05 season and was not retained, but earned a walk-on spot prior to the 2006 season. Mast is a 6-4 guard from Portland, Ore., another in a long line of Jesuit High products to attend Gonzaga.

"Andrew and Jordan are young, but we believe they will find a role on this team," Few said. "I think we've found out with the injuries we've had the past couple of seasons that you can never have too much depth. You never know when your time will come."

Few said Wednesday's lineup will probably be Raivio, Pargo, Pendergraft, Mallon and Kuso.

"I don't put much stock into who starts," Few said.

The 2007 Bulldogs will take on a new personality in their bid for a ninth straight trip to the NCAA Tournament. It's a challenge Few and his staff eagerly await.

 

 

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