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Monday, December 10, 2018  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Sports

Grip on Sports: Last year the decision was to go, this year Zag stars decide to stay

Gonzaga forward Killian Tillie cuts the nets after the Zags defeated BYU for the WCC Tournament championship March 6. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)
Gonzaga forward Killian Tillie cuts the nets after the Zags defeated BYU for the WCC Tournament championship March 6. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)

A GRIP ON SPORTS • What a difference a year makes. Twelve months ago, Gonzaga was trying to figure out how to deal with the early departures of Zach Collins and Nigel Williams-Goss. Somehow, the Zags did. And the roll continued into this offseason. Read on.

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• You want an early season favorite for the title “Best in the West” in the 2018-19 college basketball season? Look no further than Gonzaga. 

Killian Tillie announced yesterday he would return to the school for his junior season, foregoing even the seemingly mandatory exploration of his NBA chances, which is often accompanied by assurances that no agent would be hired so the door was open to a return.

Neither Tillie or Rui Hachimura took that option. They are staying, they are going to use the time to work on their game and they will help anchor what has the potential to be as deep and talented a frontcourt as there is in college hoops.

Potentially.

We know what Tillie can do. After all, the 6-foot-10 stretch four was the WCC Tournament’s most valuable player. And Hachimura showed flashes of his excellence, dominating Saint Mary’s in two meetings and leading highlight videos at other times.

But both were sophomores last season and, like many sophomores before them, disappeared occasionally. Consistency was not either’s strongest asset. It will have to be next season. They are going to be counted on to lead night in and night out, to score, rebound and defend the rim. But they also will not be alone.

The duo will be joined by San Jose State transfer Brandon Clarke, a 6-8 forward who not only averaged almost 18 points a game as a sophomore, but was twice named to the Mountain West Conference’s defensive team. Then there is center Jacob Larsen, who will be a year removed from a knee injury that has slowed his progress – and his footspeed – since arriving in Spokane, as well as highly coveted freshman big Filip Petrusev.

Depth should not be a problem for the Zags up front.

Thanks to two returnees.

• At my high school graduation ceremony, tradition dictated every college scholarship won by the students of St. Francis High was recognized. There were a sprinkling of offers to Ivy League schools, such as Harvard and Penn. And UC schools. And, being it was a Catholic institution, many listings from Jesuit universities up and down the West Coast.

But there were a couple of names called out over and over and over again. 

See, we had two football players who were offered scholarships from just about every program in the nation.

So a school’s name, say Washington or Nebraska, was followed by the names Ray Peters and Dave Diffley throughout the ceremony. It made the hot June day seem even hotter. And certainly made the graduation last longer.

Dave decided on Stanford and Ray headed to USC, destinations already decided by the time we sat in the sun that day, but being a private school, marketing the offers was important. Though, when you think about it, everyone in earshot was already addicted to the brand.

But it was a big deal for Dave and Ray.

As was yesterday for many high school students in our area.

When it comes to letters of intent, most of the attention is on football and basketball, the attention-grabbing sports. But someone heading to Eastern to play soccer or WSU to run track has to follow the same procedure and signs a contract that is just as binding.

Besides, the road to such a reward is just as tough to ascend as any. Reaching the top of the mountain takes hard work in every case.

So it’s nice that those who have earned something they set their eyes on years ago are honored, no matter what the achievement. The sports page covers those who have earned it through athletic excellence. Other avenues exist to honor those who earn academic achievement. 

Neither comes easy. All deserve an attaboy. And if you do it now, come the 90-degree graduation day, maybe you can just race through them again and get everybody out of the sun.

•••

WSU: Speaking of letters of intent, the basketball program signed two players yesterday, the first step in filling the handful of open spots on the roster. Theo Lawson has a story on the signings. … Elsewhere in the Pac-12, the national championship football game will be in Santa Clara at the end of this season. What are the odds a Pac-12 school will be involved? … Washington has a shot especially if Jake Browning takes a step at the quarterback spot. … Oregon and Oregon State have other goals. … Basketball signings and other news takes centerstage at Utah, Colorado, UCLA, Washington and Arizona

Gonzaga: Besides his story on Tillie’s decision, Jim Meehan also has a piece on Josh Perkins earning an academic award and another on a graduate transfer who is considering heading to Spokane. … Around the WCC, Nick Emery is making plans to return to BYU and basketball. … Former USD coach Lamont Smith found an assistant position. … New Pepperdine coach Lorenzo Romar is building a roster.

EWU: The Eagles signed a 6-4 guard to an LOI yesterday. Jim Allen has the story.

Idaho: The Vandals are in the middle of spring football, with new linebackers coach John Graham discovering the depth of the position. Peter Harriman has that story

CCS: The Sasquatch baseball team is tied for first in the NWAC and has a big showdown looming this weekend.

Preps: A busy Thursday in the high school ranks, with Greg Lee writing a feature on Cheney sprinter Charles Johnson as well as a track notebook. … There is also a feature on a Medical Lake tennis player as well as Dave Nichols’ look at the area high school athletes who made their college choices known yesterday. … That’s also a subject covered by Larry Weir’s Press Box pod. … We have roundups from softball and soccer.

Mariners: Kyle Seager has started most seasons slowly. Not this one. His two-run home run lifted the M’s to a 4-2 win over Kansas City. … Edwin Diaz is also doing well to start the season. … Felix Hernandez, however, doesn’t seem to have a fastball anymore.

Seahawks: You want a surprise? Oakland is on the preseason schedule again. … The Hawks signed a 49er cornerback. And made other roster moves

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• Happy birthday to the most gracious, nicest, understanding person in the world. Has to be. Kim is married to me. It takes all those attributes to get through one day, let alone the past nearly 39 years of marriage. She deserves a shoutout on her birthday. Until later … 


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