Bulldogs Host Alberta Monday For Lone Exhibition Contest
Nov. 1, 2009
SPOKANE, Wash. - Gonzaga University's men's basketball team plays its lone exhibition game Monday when the University of Alberta visits for a 6 p.m. contest in the sold out McCarthey Athletic Center.
The gamne will be televised on KHQ-TV in Spokane, with no other television planned for this contest. The game can also be heard on 1510 KGA and 101.1 KEYF-FM radio in Spokane and on this website. The radio network pre-game show begins one hour prior to tip-off.
Alberta comes into the contest with a 4-4 record after sweeping a pair of games this past weekend with Lethbridge University to open Canada West play.
The Golden Bears have undergone radical changes since the end of last season. Gone from the program, most notably, is 26-year head coach Don Horwood, who announced his retirement in the fall of 2008. The long-time Golden Bears coach was on the bench for 943 overall games with the Evergreen and Gold, compiling a 591-352 (.627) record, and guided the team to three National titles (1994, 1995, and 2002).
Stepping into the head coach role is Toronto native Greg Francis, who also serves as Canada's junior team coach. Prior to his coaching career, Francis played five seasons in the NCAA with the Fairfield University Stags in Connecticut, where he still owns a career record for most three-pointers made (230) in a single season and is fifth in all-time school scoring. He also played for Canada at the 2000 Summer Olympics.
He inherited a team that went 13-9 in Canada West play last season, but only returns four players. Only Scott Leigh (3rd year, guard, Vancouver), Harvey Bradford (5th year, guard, B.C.), and Sahr Saffa (2nd year, forward, Edmonton) return from last season's starting line-up. Canadian players get five years of playing as compared to the four years players in American colleges receive.
Key newcomers include Jordan Baker and Rob Dewar, who both played for Francis with Canada at the recent FIBA U-19 World Championships, as well as Jamaal Bucknor, Todd Bergen-Henengouwen, Khas Toker and Jordan Hone.
While exhibition games are normally hard to prepare for, Francis may have a slight edge over Gonzaga University counterpart Mark Few when it comes to scouting the opposition. Francis, as head coach of the Canadian Junior National Team, has played a role in the development of the four Canadian players that dot the Bulldog roster. Most notable among those would be Kamloops, British Columbia, freshman Kelly Olynyk and Edmonton, Alberta, native Mangisto Arop who played for Francis in this past summer's FIBA U-19 World Championships in New Zealand.
At first glance, opposing teams and fans might think this is the year to have Gonzaga on the schedule.
After all, the Bulldogs graduated four of their top five scorers from a year ago, accounting for 60 percent of their points. That foursome also took with them 56.9 percent of the Zags rebounds of a year ago. And don't forget the 51.8 percent of the assists that won't return this year, either.
But don't be so quick to write the Bulldogs obituary just yet. The cupboard is far from bare.
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.
Don't forget about 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, 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.
"I think we have a solid nucleus of players to build this team around," Few said. "It may not be as deep as some teams we've returned in the past, but the quality is every bit as good."
And Bouldin leads the way.
"Matt is going to be one of the best leaders this program has seen," Few said. "We're looking for him to have an outstanding senior season in the tradition of Bulldog basketball. We have had a lot of players respond when they get to be seniors. Matt has had a solid career to this point and we have no reason to believe he won't continue to get better and have an outstanding senior year."
Gray remains one of the best pure shooters to don a Bulldog uniform, and his perimeter play could be important as the Bulldogs inside game develops and gains confidence early in the season.
"Our outside game may have to carry us early in the season. We don't have the experience underneath like we do on the perimeter, so we'll count on Steven to provide us some long-range offense. He has shown throughout his career he is one of the purest shooters we've had in this program, and that's a big statement when you look at some of those who have played here before him," Few said.
Goodson is in line to replace Pargo at the point, and the experience he gained last year has left him ready to accept the challenge.
"Demetri had a solid freshman season for us. He was as ready to play as any freshman we've had. He brims with confidence and his game took giant strides as the season progressed," Few noted. "We're in good hands with Demetri at the point, but we knew that when we recruited him. He didn't disappoint us."
The return of a healthy Sacre also has Few excited for the season.
"We think Rob being healthy just makes us that much better," Few said. "He showed as a freshman he could play at this level and we did a good job of developing him and letting him get a feel for Division I basketball. It was unfortunate he was hurt in the pre-season a year ago and then re-injured the foot early in the season. He has worked hard to get himself ready for this season. He's excited and we're excited about this season."
Foster, who has been a role player throughout his career, could play an important role this season.
"Will has the experience, he just needs to continue to work hard to grow and develop. There have been times he has come in and really helped this team. He has worked hard in getting more consistency in his game. With our lack of experienced depth underneath he could play a vital role as some of the younger players develop," Few said.
While the Bulldogs said farewell to five seniors following last year's NCAA Sweet Sixteen loss to eventual national champion University of North Carolina, the off-season departure of sophomore Austin Daye to the NBA left a hole. He averaged 12.7 ppg, 6.8 rpg and 2.1 blocks/game.
But while Daye became a first-round pick of the Detroit Pistons as the 15th selection overall, it also created an opportunity. It's just a matter of who steps up to help fill the void.
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:
Arop, F, 6-6, 220, Freshman, Edmonton, Alberta
Sam Dower, F/C, 6-9, 228, Freshman, Brooklyn Park, Minn.
Elias Harris, F, 6-7, 215, Freshman, Speyer, Germany
Bol Kong, F, 6-6, 220, Sophomore, Vancouver, British Columbia
Olynyk, F, 6-11, 215, Freshman, Kamloops, British Columbia
David Stockton, G, 5-10, 150, Freshman, Spokane, Wash.
G. J. Vilarino, G, 6-0, 177, Freshman, McKinney, Texas
Arop and Olynyk gained invaluable experience in helping the Canadians to a seventh-place finish last summer. Arop finished tied for ninth in scoring at 16.2 ppg and tied for 31st in rebounding with 5.3 rpg in the games, while Olynyk averaged 11.2 ppg for 35th, was fifth in rebounding with 8.3 rpg, tied for 12th with 1.2 blocks/game and was 44th in assists with 1.7/game.
"They performed well and got some great experience which will help them this season. Both can play at this level and I think they will have outstanding careers by the time they leave Gonzaga," Few said of two of the three Canadian newcomers to join the Bulldogs this season.
The third Canadian newcomer is Kong, who got visa issues resolved late this past summer to get to Gonzaga and begin his career. He played for Douglas College in Westminster, British Columbia, as a freshman, the team winning the 2008 Canadian Men's National Championship as he was named to the All-Tournament team. He was scheduled to arrive at Gonzaga last season until he had to re-apply for his visa after earning his Canadian citizenship.
"I think people have put too much hype into Bol," Few said. "He is very talented and will have a good career at Gonzaga, but people must realize he hasn't played basketball in a year and is still just a sophomore. As with most transfers, it will take him awhile to learn our system. But he has a solid upside."
Kong, who sat out Gonzaga's open scrimmage as part of Kraziness in the Kennel, is also expected to remain on the sidelines Monday while he continues to nurse a sore ankle.
Dower and Harris are two others who could vie for minutes left by Daye's departure. Like Arop and Olynyk, Harris earned invaluable experience this past summer playing for Germany in the European championships in Poland. He played for BIS Speyer in the German ProB third division for four years, averaging 20.9 ppg and 9.2 rpg in 2009.
Dower didn't make his high school varsity team until mid-way through his sophomore season, and he capped his prep career averaging 23.9 ppg, 11.5 rpg, 2.0 assists/game, 3.3 blocks/game and shooting 61 percent from the field as a senior.
"Elias is a good athlete with a strong body," Few said. "He has uncanny leaping ability and will be a force underneath for us. His European experience will be a big plus for him. He will give us a strong presence inside. Dower is another great athlete who is a big body underneath. We will get better and better as these two develop and they learn to cope with the nuances of Division I basketball."
A pair of guards joined the Bulldogs this season in Vilarino and Stockton. Vilarino originally signed a letter-of-intent at the University of Kentucky but was released from the letter after last spring's coaching change. Vilarino, who was born in Spokane and left at the age of one, still has family in the area and decided to make Gonzaga his choice when shopping for a new school. Stockton, the son of Utah Jazz and Naismith Hall of Famer John Stockton who also played for the Bulldogs, is a walk-on who will redshirt this season.
"G.J. will probably see some minutes this season backing up Demetri at the point," Few said. "He is a solid floor leader who has a bright future here. David will be a big contributor down the road for us, but it is in his best interests for him to redshirt this season. He needs the year of physical maturity."
Senior Chris Pontarolo-Maag is another guard who will be a role player for the Bulldogs. He played sparingly in seven games last year, but suffered a dislocated knee mid-way through the season that sidelined him for about a month.
"We have some good young players who have been in the program who continue to challenge the older players ahead of them," Few said. "We don't have a lot of experienced depth, but that is what makes this job fun and different every year. It will be up to our staff to develop that depth, and that's the challenging part of coaching at the collegiate level. How our depth progresses could mean the difference between a win or a loss at times this year."
The Bulldogs face another challenging schedule. Gonzaga will compete in the EA Sports Maui Invitational, head to 2009 NCAA runner-up Michigan State University for an early-season test, host Washington State University and Wake Forest University, battle the University of Illinois in the United Center in Chicago, face Duke University at Madison Square Garden in New York and travel to the University of Memphis to begin another 4-year home-and-home series with the Tigers. Gonzaga will also face Davidson in the Comcast Battle in Seattle. Combine that with another grueling West Coast Conference slate and the Bulldogs will be tested often.
"We have another outstanding schedule, and with so many newcomers on this team it is imperative we stay focused and work hard to get better every day," Few said. "We can't afford to take any nights off with this schedule or we'll get beat, and that's something we have to stress to this team because of our youth."
Gonzaga ran the table in WCC play in 2009 with a perfect 14-0 record, their third unblemished mark since 2004. The University of Portland is expected to provide the main challenge to unseat the Bulldogs this year, the Pilots returning nearly everybody from last year's third-place team.
"Our conference is getting better and better and there is parity in the WCC," Few said. "People don't understand how tough it is to go 14-0 in this conference. It's a real credit to our players that they have been able to persevere in some tough environments over the years and reach that level of excellence. I'm not saying we'll go 14-0 again, but I know we have 16 young men who believe in what we are doing at Gonzaga. They listen to what we tell them, then they go out on the court and compete and execute at a high level. Everything we've accomplished should be attributed to them."
The 2010 Bulldogs are young, indeed. But the cupboard isn't bare.
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