Recruiting is acknowledged as an inexact science. Coaches pore over every measurable, every statistic and every plus/minus to a prospect’s game. Recruiting services offer rankings, video and analysis.
And then there’s the case of Gonzaga’s Sam Dower, a bit of a late bloomer with a knack for, as ex-Washington State basketball coach Kelvin Sampson used to say of scorers, “putting the brown thing in the round thing.”
“Leon (Rice, ex-Gonzaga assistant) and I saw him in the spring, back when you could go out in the spring, in Dallas or Denver,” Bulldogs assistant coach Ray Giacoletti said. “He was a big guy and his ball went in. I know that sounds kind of stupid, but the ball went in for a big guy and that’s not always easy to find.”
Dower was promoted from junior varsity to varsity during his sophomore season at Osseo (Minn.) High.
“The only reason I was on JV was because I was a tall guy,” Dower said. “I wasn’t much of a threat, but I just started gaining confidence and the coach was like, ‘He can help us on varsity.’ ”
On the AAU circuit, at least initially, Dower was a good player, but not necessarily the one coaches flocked into faraway gyms to watch.
“Near the end of my sophomore year of high school I started getting my touch and scoring a lot and that’s when people started recruiting me, too,” Dower said.
That included Gonzaga, which beat out Minnesota, Cal, George Mason and Marquette for the 6-foot-9 forward. It wasn’t an easy decision for Dower, who understood picking GU meant limited opportunities to return home to see his family. Holidays and birthday celebrations often would be spent apart.
“It would have been nice to stay home and play with guys I knew in high school,” Dower said. “The big key with me was I wanted to go away because I wanted to get a chance to mature. I knew if I stayed home I’d be asking my parents for everything and I wouldn’t get a chance to grow up.
“I liked the atmosphere here and I liked the guys. You have to like your teammates because you’re going to be playing with them.”
Dower, who redshirted two years ago, emerged over the last half of the WCC schedule to become the Zags’ fourth-leading scorer last season.
His points-per-minutes-played was easily the best on the team. Nothing’s changed this season. The left-handed shooting sophomore has been on a tear over the last six games, averaging 13.7 points and six rebounds in 21.7 minutes.
“He’s rebounding better. That was an unbelievable effort (against Xavier),” coach Mark Few said of Dower’s 10 boards in 22 minutes. “He’s always been able to face up and shoot those shots. He was feeling it and Ray noticed in warm-ups he was shooting the heck out of it. There weren’t a lot of opportunities around the basket, Xavier is a rugged crew in there, so you go to Plan B a little bit.
“The key for him is defense. His first year or so he was a liability on defense. He’s guarding better now.”
There was no magic formula for Dower’s turnaround.
“I didn’t start out the season well. I had to work on things in practice, rebounding and being a threat in the post,” he said. “In the beginning I wasn’t really shooting the ball. I wasn’t doing anything. Coach (Few) was telling me, ‘You have to get to your shot.’ I worked on it and carried it over into games.”
Dower is a versatile scorer, giving Gonzaga another option alongside Robert Sacre and Elias Harris. Dower hit three consecutive midrange jumpers, including a tough 10-foot fadeaway, after Xavier had nosed in front 41-40 in the second half.
“The great thing about Sam is he keeps the game simple,” Giacoletti said. “So many guys complicate the game. His shot is soft when it comes out of his hand and you can’t teach that. He’s always had that jump hook and we’re trying to help him find a counter (move). He’s really worked hard on his face-up game. He’s always been good from 15-17 feet. If he can stretch it to the 3, it makes it really hard for people to guard him.”
Giacoletti has been coaching since 1984. Asked if he’s been around anyone with a better shooting touch than Dower, he said, “Probably just one, (ex-Washington Husky and NBA play- er) Todd MacCulloch, and he led the country in field-goal percentage for three years.”