Gonzaga will be without one of its key players for roughly the first two months of the season.
Junior forward Killian Tillie, recently named to the Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Award preseason watch list, is expected to miss eight weeks after having surgery to repair a stress fracture in his ankle.
That timeline puts Tillie on the sideline for all of Gonzaga’s marquee nonconference games, when the Zags compile a big portion of their NCAA Tournament resume. He would return roughly near the end of the nonconference slate (Dec. 28 vs. North Alabama, Dec. 31 vs. Cal State Bakersfield) or at the outset of the West Coast Conference season (Jan. 5 vs. Santa Clara).
Tillie recently reaggravated an ankle injury in practice, according to a GU release. Additional tests revealed a stress fracture that required surgery.
It’s a big blow to Gonzaga, which was expected to have one of the nation’s best frontcourts with Tillie, Rui Hachimura, Brandon Clarke and Filip Petrusev. Tillie was projected as a starter – he started 35 games last season – but the Zags will likely go with Hachimura and Clarke in the first unit.
Hachimura came off the bench in 35 of 37 games last season but led the team in scoring in conference play and landed a first-team All-WCC selection. The 6-foot-8 Clarke, who sat out last year after transferring from San Jose State, put up big numbers as a sophomore with a team-leading 17.3 points, 8.7 rebounds and 2.3 blocks.
Tillie’s absence should mean additional minutes for Petrusev, who was already expected to be in the frontcourt rotation. The 6-11 Petrusev, a top-60 recruit, can operate inside and is capable of stretching the floor.
Tillie’s injury cuts deeper into Gonzaga’s depth inside. Jacob Larsen, a 6-11 sophomore center, left the team earlier this month but is still enrolled in school.
The Zags will likely turn to 6-7 senior Jeremy Jones as the fourth big behind Hachimura, Clarke and Petrusev. Jones has played in 60 career games, averaging 5.4 minutes. He averaged 1.7 points and 1.3 rebounds in 6.5 minutes per game last season.
Tillie averaged 12.9 points and 5.9 rebounds last season, earning second-team All-WCC honors. He was voted the WCC Tournament’s most outstanding player after connecting on 13 of 14 3-pointers and averaging 24 points in three wins.
Tillie is a versatile scorer for the Zags with his soft touch around the basket and his team-high 48-percent accuracy behind the 3-point line. He made 77 percent of his free throws. He ranked second in blocks (37) and fourth in steals (30).
Tillie missed Gonzaga’s season-ending loss to Florida State in the Sweet 16 last year with a hip injury. He missed a handful of games as a freshman with a sprained ankle and broken finger.
Gonzaga entertains Central Washington in an exhibition game Thursday before opening the regular season versus Idaho State on Nov. 6.
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