After two weeks of Gonzaga players declaring for the draft, transferring or skipping their senior season, the Zags began replenishing their roster Thursday.
Joel Ayayi, a 6-foot-5, 160-pound combination guard from France, announced his commitment to GU on Twitter. He picked the Zags over Georgia Tech after visiting both schools earlier this month.
“I talked to Tommy (Lloyd, Gonzaga assistant coach) very often,” Ayayi said. “They really adopted me like I was a family. There are good people in Spokane and Gonzaga and I think it’s a big program.”
French natives in Gonzaga’s program since 2001 include Ronny Turiaf, Mamery Diallo, Mathis Keita, Guy Landry Edi and Killian Tillie, who will be a sophomore next season.
“Killian told me that it was a perfect spot because everybody there is involved in Gonzaga,” Ayayi said.
Ayayi is a product of INSEP, France’s national institute for sport, expertise and performance. He played on INSEP’s younger team while Tillie was part of the older squad before joining the Zags.
“Joel is an exciting prospect,” Gonzaga coach Mark Few said. “He has a really bright future.”
Ayayi is just 17 years old, one of the reasons many believe he has great upside. He has length and is considered a late bloomer. He should continue to fill out physically and it wouldn’t be a surprise if he grew another inch or two.
Ayayi averaged 11.3 points, 6.7 rebounds and 2.1 assists at the FIBA U-16 European Championships last year. He’s also participated in the Adidas Next Generation tournament and his INSEP team competes in France’s third division professional league against older, experienced players.
“I’m working on my point guard abilities, ball-handling and court vision, but it’s a long process,” Ayayi said. “I like to play defense hard and steal the ball. I like to grab rebounds and be really active on the court and share the ball with my teammates.”
Ayayi could have been a 2018 recruit but he’s opted to take his exams in June to be in the 2017 class. He hopes to be on campus this summer.
“It’s good for me to come now because I will learn more,” said Ayayi, whose older sister, Valeriane, played in the WNBA for San Antonio in 2015. “If I want, I can redshirt or go directly to the games (next season).”
Ayayi joins 6-6 wing Corey Kispert in GU’s incoming class. The Zags still have three open scholarships, though one could be dedicated to a player on the current roster.
Zach Collins, Nigel Williams-Goss and Johnathan Williams have declared for the draft. Williams didn’t sign with an agent so he has the option of returning for his senior season. Bryan Alberts opted to transfer and Ryan Edwards decided not to play his senior season.
The Zags also lost Przemek Karnowski and Jordan Mathews to graduation.