The question was posed to Gonzaga basketball coach Mark Few that senior forward Sam Dower appeared to be stronger, but lighter than last season.
Dower picked that moment to drive by a defender at the free-throw line for a dunk at Tuesday’s practice.
“Like that (play), he wasn’t doing that before,” Few said. “He’s in much better condition than he’s been.”
It’s year five for Dower at Gonzaga and significant playing time awaits the easy-going forward from Minnesota. The Bulldogs lost leading scorers and rebounders Kelly Olynyk and Elias Harris to the NBA.
Dower, who redshirted as a freshman, reached double figures in his first two games and scored 21 points in a road win at Saint Mary’s as a redshirt freshman. He had 20 points and 10 boards in a big road victory over Xavier and 14 points versus Saint Mary’s in the WCC Tournament title game as a sophomore. He scored 20 points against Butler in Indianapolis last season.
There have been numerous flashes of Dower’s considerable talent, but he’s never averaged more than the 18.1 minutes, 8.3 points and 3.7 rebounds that represented his sophomore season.
There are reasons for that. Three of them, to be precise. Dower has waited behind Olynyk, Harris and Robert Sacre at different stages of their GU careers as they developed into NBA players. Now it’s Dower’s turn and it looks like he’s put in the offseason training to handle the extra work load.
Dower weighs 238 pounds. He was 248 as a redshirt freshman and listed at 255 pounds last season. He said he’s never been stronger or lighter in his time at Gonzaga.
“Travis (Knight, conditioning coach) was pushing me every day this summer,” Dower said. “We went hard.”
The left-handed shooting Dower said he’s worked on finishing with his right hand and on driving to the basket. Olynyk and Harris both had the ability to create off the dribble. Dower also worked on defending and rebounding – two areas that have kept him from playing more minutes in the past.
Dower remains close friends with Olynyk, Harris and Sacre.
“He’s dealt with it great, which you love, but part of you wishes maybe it bothered him more,” Few said. “But Sam is Sam so now it’s his turn. He needs to put his stamp on it. He’s never going to be a big yeller or rah-rah guy, but with extended minutes and being able to play through mistakes I’m hoping he’s going to have a great senior year.”
GU, short on big bodies in the front court, needs consistency and production from Dower and center Przemek Karnowski (10.7 minutes, 5.4 points last season) as they assume bigger roles.
“I know last season I wasn’t in shape to play big minutes and you could tell when I was tired,” Dower said. “I took pride this summer in getting my body right, eating better than I used to so I can help this team.
“Playing behind (three current NBA players), I was learning the work ethic it takes to make it to the next level. I talked to Kelly and we were worked out a couple times this summer. I felt like I learned a lot of things this summer and hopefully I can show it.”
It’s just three days into practice, but 7-foot-1, 300-pound freshman center Ryan Edwards has been “a pleasant surprise of all the new guys,” Few said.
Edwards, a product of Glacier High in Kalispell, Mont., appears to have a soft shooting touch, passing ability and moves well for a 7-footer, much like Karnowski.
“Soft hands, he’s in very good shape, skilled,” Few said. “He can make free throws and he’s got good feet. We just have to get him a little more aggressive.”