Caught up with assistant coach Leon Rice as the Zags await their first practice Friday night.
He had a great line when I asked him about getting so many newcomers (Manny Arop, Bol Kong, Elias Harris, Kelly Olynyk, G.J. Vilarino, Sam Dower and walk-on David Stockton) up to speed.
“I told Mark (Few) that it’s like talking to the United Nations and they don’t have their headsets on,” Rice said. “They all look at you and say, ‘huh.’ ”
Much more on the Zags below.
By my count, there are six members of the highly-touted incoming recruiting class (Dower, Arop, Kong, Olynyk, Vilarino and Harris), walk-ons (Chris Pontarolo-Maag,
Kong is a newcomer, but he’s a sophomore in eligibility.
Said Rice: “Usually we have a good nucleus of returners that can kind of bring one or two guys along. This time, it’s the opposite. The majority is the new guys.”
Which means a lot of instruction and learning.
“Our system and program has its own language,” Rice said. “That’s the first step, getting them to learn the terms we use in our teaching. After having all the guys in the system for so long, you kind of take that for granted. Physically (the newcomers) have a lot of gifts, that’s a great place to start, but they have to learn how to play Gonzaga basketball and play together so they’re all on the same page with the veterans.”
Matt Bouldin is the marquee returner. Demetri ‘Meech’ Goodson, Steven Gray and Robert Sacre also have established resumes, though Sacre missed most of last season with a foot injury.
“Matt had a terrific year last year,” Rice said. “The team and dynamic has changed so much with so many new guys and so many guys (gone) from last year that played a major role. All four of those guys have worked hard in offseason and done a nice job and shown improvement.”
Everybody should be on hand for the opening practice. Arop has worn a protective boot after experiencing discomfort in his foot, but Rice said that was a preventative measure and Arop will practice without limits. Grant Gibbs (back) is also good to go as well as Sacre.
“Rob has had a tremendous offseason,” Rice said. “He probably worked as hard as anybody in basketball and I think he’s going to reap the benefits of that.”
Fans already know about Bouldin, Gray, Goodson and Sacre, so here are Rice’s thoughts on some on the rest of the roster:
Elias Harris: “His game has a maturity about it, he doesn’t look like a normal freshman. He’s a ‘4’, maybe a 3. He’s got perimeter skills, a savvy about him. He can have the ball in his hands.”
Sam Dower: “He’s just one of those kids who has improved a ton from when we signed him, and he’s going to continue to improve. That’s the exciting thing about him. His body is already starting to change.”
G.J. Vilarino: “Tremendous athlete, he has an extra gear most people don’t have. He can go north-south in a hurry. Sometimes those guys who can go really fast have to learn to slow their decision-making down.”
Bol Kong: “He’s kind of got a smooth, nice pace to him. Coach Few really wants him to be an aggressive scorer. As he gets more comfortable and learns where and when to score, that’s where he needs to be able to step up and help the team. He’s a ‘3’.”
Kelly Olynyk: “Remarkably skilled for his size and he’s coming in at about 6-11, 7 feet. He really has ‘2’ guard skills, but he can also go inside and score because he’s so crafty. Really good feel for the game. Again, like Sam, he is going to get better and better and better.”
Manny Arop: “The thing we’ve seen is he’s a gamer. Every international competition he was in, he produced. That’s a good quality to have. He’s in the same boat in that he has a lot to learn and not a lot of time to learn it.”
David Stockton: “He’s doing great. He’s got a tremendous feel for the game, understands the position and makes people around him better. Hard worker, usually that leads to improvement.”
Andy Poling: “He made great physical gains from his freshman to sophomore year, put on a lot of weight and got a lot stronger. He’s making steady increases. He’s one of those smart players; he can really make things go right and he knows where to be. Something good happens and you look up and hey, Andy’s involved.”
Grant Gibbs: (Confession: I asked about Grant and
Mike Hart: “Walk-on from Jesuit (in
Will Foster: He’s had a really good preseason. So much of his success hinges on whether he can keep his positive attitude.”