Bulldogs Look To Re-Load

Nov. 5, 2004

Re-build or re-load?

Depending on how you look at it, Gonzaga University will have to do a little of both this season.

Gone are five seniors, including second-round NBA draft pick, second team Associated Press All-American and two-time West Coast Conference Player of the Year Blake Stepp.

But sixth-year head coach Mark Few believes the Bulldogs are in more of a re-loading mode than a wholesale rebuilding year.

"I think for the first time in my 16 years at Gonzaga we can honestly say we can absorb a loss of this magnitude," Few said. "We have the players in place to fill the void."

"Are we going to miss those five guys, sure we are. But it's part of the college game. Players move on and that's part of the coaching challenge - to recruit to those situations," Few said.

The biggest recruiting coups came when senior forward Ronny Turiaf decided to forego the NBA draft and return for his final season.

Turiaf paced the Bulldogs with his 15.5 ppg last season, grabbed 6.4 rebounds per outing, shot 52.5 percent from the field and blocked nearly 1.5 shots per game. He was a WCC first-team selection, an AP honorable mention All-America pick and one of 20 finalists for the Naismith Player of the Year Award.

"I think Ronny made the right decision, and I don't say that from the selfish position as the head coach. I think he can be one of the dominant players in the NCAA this year and has a chance to be a lottery pick in the NBA draft," Few said. "There are parts of his game he needs to work on, he knows that and he has dedicated himself to becoming a better player and making Gonzaga a better team."

The product of Le Robert, Martinique, has 1,230 career points to rank 14th on the Gonzaga list, has 466 career free throws for second, has grabbed 564 career rebounds and has blocked 120 shots for second on the career swats list.

Turiaf was a District 9 first-team selection of the United States Basketball Writers Association and was a District 14 pick by the National Association of Basketball Coaches.

While Turiaf will be the main cog in the Bulldogs arsenal, Few will also turn to three sophomores and a junior as part of the re-loading.

Erroll Knight, who finally entered the fray last season following his transfer from the University of Washington and subsequent redshirt year, started 19 games last season after coming off the bench the first third of the season. He made 15 of his starts following Tony Skinner's broken hand.

He averaged 5.8 ppg and 3.1 rpg while seeing nearly 18 minutes of playing time per game.

"I think you'll see Erroll become a lot more involved in what we do. I think he made great strides last season and you'll see him blossom even more this season. His role last year was that of stopping the other guy. I think Erroll will be called upon to continue to be our defensive leader but also have a more active role on the offensive end of the court," Few said.

Knight was invaluable on the press last season, triggering several transition baskets off the press as well as off the break.

"Erroll has quick hands, a long arm span and uncanny timing," Few said. "He was our defensive leader a year ago."

The sophomore class is paced by Adam Morrison and Sean Mallon, a pair of WCC All-Freshman team performers a year ago, and Derek Raivio, who got his baptism at the point behind Stepp.

"I don't think we could have asked for anything more from those three," Few said. "To come in and do the job they did exceeded our expectations."

Morrison averaged 20.8 minutes/game, Mallon 15.5 and Raivio 11.3.

"We didn't hesitate going to them last year, and that will only make us better this year," Few said. "There's nothing they haven't experienced crowd wise or experience wise. And they are only sophomores."

Morrison, who got as much recognition for his battle with diabetes as he did for his on-court savvy as a freshman, averaged 11.4 ppg, behind Turiaf, the second-best returning scorer this year. Plus, he shot 53.1 percent from the field (137-for-258), 30.4 percent from 3-point range (17-for-56) and 72.6 percent from the free throw line (61-for-84).

Mallon provided depth underneath, but also showed he can play away from the basket. He averaged 5.7 ppg, 2.9 rpg, shot 60.4 percent from the field (61-101) and 40.0 percent from 3-point range (4-for-10).

Raivio's minutes were limited because he played behind Stepp, but he still averaged 11.3 minutes/game, allowing Stepp the opportunity to move to the off guard. Raivio shot 49.2 percent from the field (32-for-65) and 50.0 percent from long range (23-for-46) as most of his shots were from beyond the arc.

"I look for all three of those guys to have an even greater impact on our success this year," Few said. "We've never had the luxury of this much experience from such young underclassmen before. Again, what they did last year will only make us better in the future. They have great careers ahead of them."

Joining Turiaf as the only other senior on this year's squad is Brian Michaelson, a role player who appeared in 15 games a year ago. But Few and his coaching staff look to Michaelson for leadership in other ways.

"Brian does more for this team that people realize," Few said. "The players like him, he can relate to them and he's like having another coach on the team. He wants to coach when his collegiate career is over, and he'll make an outstanding coach. He has a great love for the game and the right temperament. Brian is a student of the game."

Two other role players who will vie for playing time are juniors Colin Floyd and Stephen Gentry, both walkons. Both saw limited action last year.

There are a host of newcomers who will also mesh into the mix this year.

Redshirts Nathan Doudney, a 6-4 shooting guard, and Calum MacLeod, a 7-1 center, look to figure in the plans this season.

Doudney is a proven shooter who came to the Bulldogs after two seasons at Texas Tech and sat out last season. In two seasons with the Red Raiders he shot 37.8 percent from 3-point range (76-for-201).

MacLeod joined the Bulldogs in January last season from New Zealand where he played for the junior national team. He redshirted the second semester and will have four years of eligibility remaining.

"Both of these guys figure big in our plans," Few said. "Doudney can be as good as any shooter we've had in this program, and that's a pretty big statement. MacLeod has come a long way since he arrived in January. He has worked hard at improving his game, which is why he came to the states. He just needs to practice and play against better competition, something he didn't have as much of back home."

Four other newcomers also join the fold for this season, again giving the Bulldogs outstanding, albeit young and inexperienced, depth.

Pierre Marie Altidor-Cespedes is a 6-0 freshman combination guard from Montreal, Quebec; J.P. Batista is a 6-9, 269-pounder from Barton County (Kans.) Community College who gives the Bulldogs bulk underneath; Josh Heytvelt is a 6-11, 217 pound forward from Clarkston, Wash., who is similar physically to Mallon, and David Pendergraft, a 6-6, 218-pound freshman guard, comes from Brewster, Wash., where he gave a verbal commitment as a sophomore.

"This is one of the deepest recruiting classes we've had. We got quality players and all four of them could step in and contribute this season," Few said.

With 14 players - including four freshmen - on the roster, it would appear a redshirt season might be on the horizon for one of the younger players.

"We never pre-determine if someone is going to redshirt. Once practice starts in October and we see how everyone stacks up, then we'll talk to players who might benefit from a redshirt season. Ultimately, it's their decision," Few said.

Seven of the 14 players have already used a redshirt season - Knight, Mallon, Michaelson, Floyd, Gentry, Doudney and MacLeod. Obviously, Turiaf and Morrison aren't candidates, and Raivio, who didn't redshirt as a freshman, wouldn't appear ticketed for that role this year with the lack of experience at the point.

As has always been his stance, Few refuses to compare this team with past teams. And more than ever his stock statement that each team takes on its own identity may never be truer than this season.

"This team doesn't have that corps of seniors that seems to dictate a team's personality. This team will probably be labeled 'Ronny's team' but I think it will take this team awhile to establish its identity. That seems to be the way it unfolds with a young team, and we're definitely a young squad," Few noted.

This year's version of the Bulldogs enters the season with just 92 NCAA Division I starts to their credit, only 61 of those in a Gonzaga uniform.

"We'll definitely spend a lot of the early season acclimating players to our system," Few said. "But that's one of the fun things about coaching. This team will provide different challenges than last year's team, or the one before that. We'll be teachers this year. Rather than picking up where you left off with a veteran team, we'll have to go back to the fundamentals of what we do a lot more with this team. But I think it's a group that will be good students. They'll be willing and eager to learn."

Few's record speaks for itself when grading he and his staff as teachers. Few, who enters his sixth year as head coach this fall, ranks second on the all-time NCAA wins list for both a fifth-year and fourth-year head coach. His 133 career victories trail the 137 fifth-year wins of Everett Case of North Carolina State University from 1947-51, and his 105 wins by a fourth-year head coach are also second behind Case's 107. Few is the winningest third-year head coach in NCAA Division I history with 81.

Few will be challenged once again to add to those figures as the Bulldogs have another demanding schedule.

The Bulldogs will open the regular season and the new McCarthey Athletic Complex with three straight home games, but lurking on the horizon are games with 2004 Final Four participants Oklahoma State University and Georgia Tech, as well as contests with the University of Illinois, the University of Massachusetts and Saint Louis University. That's in addition to games with nearby rivals University of Washington, Washington State University, Eastern Washington University, the University of Idaho and the University of Montana.

"The schedule will be difficult, but we're committed to playing the best possible schedule we can. This is a lot to throw at a young team, but I think they'll show the maturity to handle it well," Few said.

It's all a matter of re-loading - and re-building.

 

 

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