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No tall tales from this Zag

Gonzaga’s Will Foster loomed over Michigan State’s Derrick Nix during a mid-November game in East Lansing.  (Associated Press)
Gonzaga’s Will Foster loomed over Michigan State’s Derrick Nix during a mid-November game in East Lansing. (Associated Press)

Foster speaks from the heart

Gonzaga’s Will Foster is big and blunt.

Ask the 7-foot-5, 270-pound reserve center a question and his response comes unfiltered. He speaks openly about intense growing pains as a youngster, his three-plus years of minimal playing time and the several times he had his bags packed, ready to transfer to another school.

In one sentence he’ll tell you, “It’s been kind of a plagued four years here.” A few minutes later he’ll insist, “I’m going to look back (at his career) and be content with it.”

Foster has been more of a factor this season than the previous three. He’s played in 17 of 21 games (he was suspended for one game for leaving the court in an inappropriate manner against Pepperdine two weeks ago). He’s logged 102 minutes. He played 97 minutes combined in his first two years and a career-high 163 last season, additional time coming when Rob Sacre was sidelined with foot injury after just six games.

“What I want most out of Will is to be a great team guy and to kind of relish his role, which is to get in there, be a great interior defender, protect the rim and be a good rebounder,” coach Mark Few said. “In a lot of instances he has helped us. It’s a game-to-game, situation-to-situation thing (determining when Foster plays). I’m sure that can sometimes be frustrating, but that’s how it is when you’re in that role.”

Foster was 6-0 in the sixth grade and 7-0 by his sophomore year at White River High School in Buckley, Wash. As a youngster, he recalls having growing pains so severe that he couldn’t take part in the egg hunt one Easter. He’s sprouted nearly 2 inches since arriving at GU and he experienced growing pains last week.

After dabbling in baseball, basketball and briefly with wrestling, Foster turned out for hoops as a freshman at Enumclaw. He was practically glued to the bench on the C-team. Foster’s mother and stepfather relocated to Bonney Lake the following year and he immediately connected with White River’s coach.

Foster played varsity as a junior and averaged 17.5 points and 14 rebounds as a senior. White River attended Gonzaga’s summer camp, where Foster caught the attention of Gonzaga’s staff. He was receiving interest from UC Santa Barbara, Utah, Army, Navy and some Ivy League schools.

“I didn’t really think about where I wanted to go and when Gonzaga offered, I accepted it on the spot,” he said. “I called my parents and they weren’t too happy about the choice.”

Foster said the plan was for him to redshirt as a 235-pound freshman, but that changed during the season. Foster devoured three protein shakes a day and gained 25 pounds during his freshman season, highlighted by a solid, five-minute contribution against San Diego in the WCC tournament semifinals.

The next year again the plan was to redshirt, but that changed when Josh Heytvelt was injured.

After appearing in just 14 of GU’s 33 games as a sophomore, Foster essentially made up his mind to transfer.

“I actually knew where I was going, my AAU coach was ready to pounce on it, my parents were all for it, all my friends, I was just ready to go,” he said. “And I looked at it and I didn’t feel like leaving (girlfriend) Lauren (Ames, a goalie on GU’s soccer team). She’s been my rock.”

There were other reasons. His best friend from high school attends nearby Eastern Washington. Regarding basketball, he said, “I’m not a big fan of watching, I’m more a fan of playing and it’s been hard to deal with that. But I’m not a person to quit and walk away. I wanted to stay and try to prove others wrong.”

Foster understands his court time depends on the other team’s lineup. Smaller, quicker teams aren’t favorable matchups.

As a junior, he had two points, four rebounds and a blocked shot as Gonzaga rallied from a 15-point deficit to knock off Tennessee in Knoxville. Foster has made one basket in each of his last five game appearances. His 10 blocked shots this season are tied for second on the team. His dribble drive from the top of the key last Saturday against San Francisco caught nearly everybody in War Memorial Gym off guard.

“I think my teammates were a little more surprised (than USF), because they didn’t think I’d pull that out in a game,” said Foster, who drew a foul on the play but missed both free throws. “They pretty much know my limitations and that’s not in my jurisdiction.”

Foster said he might try to play professionally overseas next season. With his senior season winding down, he was asked if he has regrets about his GU career.

“Good question,” Foster said. “I’m not going to look back and regret it. I had fun, made some friends and definitely made a lot of memories.”