Gonzaga sophomore forward Domantas Sabonis will declare for the NBA draft.
The 6-foot-11 left-hander’s decision, first reported by ESPN’s Jeff Goodman, wasn’t considered a surprise.
Sabonis blossomed after a season-ending back injury to Przemek Karnowski. The native of Lithuania averaged 17.6 points, 11.8 rebounds and had a team-high 31 blocks. He made 61 percent from the field, 77 percent at the free-throw line and knocked down 5 of 14 3-point attempts.
Goodman reported that Sabonis will likely hire an agent, which would end his collegiate eligibility. Gonzaga head coach Mark Few said Sabonis probably won’t sign with an agent but he views that as a precautionary measure in case Sabonis were to be injured in workouts leading up to the June draft.
“He’s as impressive of a person and player as I’ve ever coached,” Few said. “His approach is just unbelievable. He comes to practice every day, gives maximum effort, he’s so tough and yet so coachable. He always wanted to be coached, always wanting to get better. He has an insatiable desire to improve.”
Sabonis, who turns 20 next month, will become the fifth Zag to leave school early, joining Paul Rogers (1997), Adam Morrison (2006), Austin Daye (2009) and Kelly Olynyk (2013). Morrison, Daye and Olynyk became first-round picks.
Sabonis is projected to go between No. 12 and No. 20 in the June draft, according to ESPN.com’s Chad Ford, who noted, “Slowly scouts have overcome their concerns about his lack of elite athleticism and 3-point range and have instead focused on his toughness, elite rebounding, high basketball IQ and efficiency in the paint.”
Gonzaga’s frontcourt loses Sabonis and senior Kyle Wiltjer, who averaged 20.4 points, the highest by a Zag since Morrison’s 28.1 in 2006. The duo’s 38 points per game was the most since Morrison and J.P. Batista combined for 47.4 in 2006. Sabonis and Wiltjer were honorable mention AP All-Americans.
Karnowski faces a lengthy recovery from back surgery but he’s optimistic he’ll be able to resume his career. The 7-foot-1 center, who is eligible for a medical redshirt, hasn’t decided if he’ll return to Gonzaga or pursue professional opportunities.
Missouri transfer Johnathan Williams is expected to be an impact player next season. The 6-9 junior led Missouri in scoring (11.9), rebounding (7.1) and blocks as a sophomore. He scored a career-high 27 points against Mississippi State and had 20-point games versus Oklahoma State and LSU.
The Zags’ incoming recruiting class is led by 6-11 Zach Collins, a McDonald’s All-American who is ranked 37th in ESPN.com’s Top 100. GU also signed 6-10 center Jacob Larsen, 6-8 Killian Tillie and 6-8 Rui Hachimura.
Reserve center Ryan Edwards has seen limited playing time in two seasons at Gonzaga. Rice transfer Jeremy Jones is a 6-6 small forward/wing.
“We’ve done it (before),” said Few, when asked about trying to replace departing standouts. “We’ll be a different team next year.”
Sabonis, son of Hall of Fame center Arvydas Sabonis, is the first Zag to average double-digit rebounds since Paul Cathey’s 11.5 in 1977-78. Sabonis had 23 double-doubles this season and his 426 rebounds are the most by a Zag since the program joined Division I in 1958.
Sabonis posted three double-doubles in the NCAA tournament, including 19 points and 10 boards against Utah and center Jakob Poeltl, who is projected as a top 10 pick by ESPN’s Ford.
“You knew nobody was going to outwork him or out-tough him,” Few said. “It wasn’t going to happen. So great in the classroom, so good with people around our team, the school, the community, all the families of the staff and such a humble person.
“You’re talking about the total package. He’s going to go down as one of the all-time Zags.”
Sabonis, a CoSIDA second-team academic All-American, plans to stay in school this semester and continue working on his game. He can work out for NBA teams and figures to be invited to the NBA draft combine May 11-15 in Chicago.
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