The Gonzaga Bulldogs open men’s basketball practice Saturday with the obvious story line centered on how they’ll replace three standouts from the 2013 team.
Gonzaga has plenty of experience dealing with departures of the program’s best players – Dan Dickau, Blake Stepp, Adam Morrison, Ronny Turiaf, Jeremy Pargo, Matt Bouldin, to name a few. The current crew will have to adjust to playing without Kelly Olynyk, first-round draft pick of the Boston Celtics; Elias Harris, now with the Los Angeles Lakers; and wing Mike Hart, a relentless rebounder and defender.
Those exits open up minutes, lots of them, at three positions. Harris averaged 27.8 minutes per game, Olynyk 26.4 and Hart 16.9.
Sophomore center Przemek Karnowski and senior forward Sam Dower are expected to assume larger roles, but they won’t be on the floor every minute. Other front-court options include true freshman Ryan Edwards, a 7-footer from Montana, 6-6 senior Drew Barham and 6-8 Louisville transfer Angel Nunez, who becomes eligible in December.
At the “3” options include sophomore Kyle Dranginis, Providence transfer Gerard Coleman and Barham, who earned additional minutes in the second half of last season. Gonzaga has also utilized a three-guard lineup of Kevin Pangos, Gary Bell Jr., and David Stockton at times the last two years.
Gonzaga won 32 games and landed the school’s first No. 1 ranking and No. 1 NCAA tournament seeding a year ago. The Bulldogs were upset by Wichita State in the round of 32. Bell was a spectator for virtually the entire second half with an ankle injury.
Bell took it easy this summer to allow a stress fracture and other nagging injuries time to heal.
“Nothing really hurts anymore,” said Bell, who joins Pangos to give GU an experienced guard tandem. “That’s a good feeling.”
They won’t be practicing at a middle school like the football team, but Washington State’s basketball team will begin its preparations for the upcoming season in Lewiston on Friday with the Cougars’ annual team retreat ahead of Tuesday’s first official practice.
And this year, coach Ken Bone has a distinct, immediate goal in mind for his players.
“A culture of toughness and defense,” Bone said. “I think our identity this year, it’s got to be about getting stops and taking care of the ball.”
Aiding in that task will be new assistant coach Rod Jensen, a college basketball veteran who is known for his ability to coach defense. The Cougars haven’t been particularly successful in that department since Tony Bennett left for Virginia following the 2008-09 season, and Jensen was hired in an attempt to change that.
WSU will be without guard Que Johnson for at least the first two or three weeks of practice, Bone said, as he recovers from a stress fracture in his shin. Johnson has been on crutches recently, but Bone said he’ll come off those on Monday. He expects him to be ready when the season starts.
The Cougars must find a way to replace Brock Motum, the team’s leading scorer the past two seasons. They’ll likely do that with some combination of Johnson and returning starters Royce Woolridge and DaVonte Lacy.
Bone said if the season started today, Woolridge would start at point guard. But junior-college transfer Danny Lawhorn will be given opportunities to run the offense, too. Senior D.J. Shelton and junior Jordan Railey will likely anchor WSU’s frontcourt.
The Eagles will open practices Tuesday for the upcoming 31-game season.
Entering their third season under head coach Jim Hayford, the Eagles will practice in the mornings, starting Tuesday at 10 a.m. Eastern will have 30 practices between then and the season opener at home against Pacific University Nov. 10.
The Eagles return four starters and seven letter-winners to a team that finished 10-21 overall and 7-13 in the Big Sky Conference.
“The early-season schedule is tough when you look at it,” said Hayford. “When you play the Huskies it is a big challenge.”
Coach Don Verlin has broken in new-look rosters during his six-year stint at Idaho, but never one with so many first-year players – and perhaps never one with so much raw talent.
The Vandals, who open practice on Saturday, have just three returning letter-winners, most notably senior Stephen Madison and Post Falls native Connor Hill. Center Joe Kammerer also returns after averaging 9.6 minutes per game last season.
The roster is dominated by newcomers, 12 in all. Former Utah and Eastern Washington guard Glen Dean, a graduate transfer, will be paired with six freshmen, including his brother, Perrion Callandret, and four junior-college transfers.
Redshirt freshman Ty Egbert and junior guard Allen Jiles IV practiced with UI last year while sitting out.