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Gonzaga’s roster could have new look again next season

Gonzaga redshirt freshman Zach Norvell Jr. warms up during a practice session for their NCAA semifinal game last year. Norvell says his experience as a redshirt helped him grow as a player and improve his game heading into this season. (Mark Humphrey / AP)
Gonzaga redshirt freshman Zach Norvell Jr. warms up during a practice session for their NCAA semifinal game last year. Norvell says his experience as a redshirt helped him grow as a player and improve his game heading into this season. (Mark Humphrey / AP)

A few way-too-early Top 25 polls are out and Gonzaga is sixth in one, 10th in another.

The Zags are also pegged as a No. 3 seed taking on UNC Asheville in Boise, so book your flights accordingly.

These projections are popular but fairly pointless, given that the personnel picture for nearly every ranked team has the clarity of mud. Top prospects must decide whether to return to school or test the NBA waters.

That applies to Gonzaga, where the stay-or-go waiting game begins for freshman forward Zach Collins and junior guard Nigel Williams-Goss.

Newcomers outnumbered returners in the eight-man rotation that just put together the best season in Gonzaga history. It could be similar next season, depending on Collins’ and Williams-Goss’ decisions.

The Zags lose senior starters Przemek Karnowski and Jordan Mathews. Karnowski exits as the NCAA all-time wins leader with 137. Stats never fully reflected his impact at both ends of the floor. The offense often ran through the 7-foot-1 center and he anchored the defense.

Mathews, a grad transfer from Cal, was an ideal fit as a sharp-shooting wing. He made a team-high 85 3-pointers, including 18 – doubling his next closest teammate – in the NCAA Tournament.

Forwards Johnathan Williams and Killian Tillie, and guards Josh Perkins and Silas Melson are among mainstays expected to return.

Zach Norvell Jr., who redshirted this season, could be in line to replace Mathews. The 6-5 Norvell has shooting range and playmaking ability. One close GU observer called Norvell potentially the best scorer in the program.

Bigger wings have been a rarity in the program but that could change with Rui Hachimura, the athletic 6-8 freshman who saw limited time this season, and 6-6 Corey Kispert, an incoming freshman.

Collins is the obvious replacement for Karnowski if he elects to return. The 7-footer elevated his draft stock with his NCAA Tournament performance, but in reality he’s been doing that for the last few months. In six tournament games, Collins made 20 of 31 shots (64.5 percent), averaged 9 points, 6.8 rebounds and 3 blocks.

He’s frequently listed as a lottery pick, positioning him to be the first one-and-done player in program history. Domantas Sabonis, Kelly Olynyk and Austin Daye declared for the draft in the last decade when they were projected in the upper half of the first round.

Freshman Jacob Larsen, who redshirted this season with a torn ACL, is an intriguing prospect. He’s added strength and pounds to his 6-11 frame.

NBA mock drafts are lukewarm on Williams-Goss, listing him as a second-rounder, if at all. He led Gonzaga in points, assists and steals and was one of the team’s top rebounds, but scouts question his athleticism at the next level.

Williams-Goss could opt to declare but not sign with an agent, giving him an option to return if he doesn’t receive favorable feedback from the NBA.

The Zags have benefited in recent years from transfers (Williams-Goss, Williams and Kyle Wiltjer) and grad transfers (Mathews and Byron Wesley).

Jesse Wade, who returns from an LDS mission this month, joins Kispert in Gonzaga’s incoming class.


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