Killian Tillie is coming back, giving Gonzaga a cornerstone for next season and giving the talented forward an opportunity to elevate his draft stock.
Tillie officially pulled his name from NBA draft consideration Wednesday about 9 hours before the deadline.
The 6-foot-10 native of France will enter next season as the team’s most experienced player in a GU uniform (84 games), a West Coast Conference Player of the Year candidate and a contender for national honors.
Five Zags declared for the June 20 draft, including wing Zach Norvell Jr. and the top four bigs from last season. Forwards Rui Hachimura and Brandon Clarke are expected to go in the first round. Norvell opted to remain in the draft. Forward Filip Petrusev announced Tuesday that he’s returning for his sophomore season.
Despite the departures of Hachimura and Clarke, Gonzaga has the makings of another strong frontcourt, led by Tillie, a versatile scorer and career 47% 3-point shooter. Petrusev provided scoring punch off the bench last season and took advantage of extended minutes when Tillie was sidelined by injury. The 6-11 Serbian averaged 6.5 points (slightly higher than Tillie’s 6.2) in 11.4 minutes per game and reached double figures 10 times.
Tillie and Petrusev will be joined by several highly rated freshman bigs, including Drew Timme, Pavel Zakharov, Oumar Ballo and Gonzaga Prep’s Anton Watson. The newcomers will be counted on to contribute immediately, but perhaps not to the extent they would have if Tillie had stayed in the draft.
Gonzaga’s roster has undergone major revisions from last season and was looking talented but young as recently as last month. The return of Tillie and Petrusev and the addition of Texas A&M graduate transfer guard Admon Gilder provides valuable experience, along with rising junior wing Corey Kispert, who started 36 games last season. Rising sophomore guards Greg Foster Jr. and Joel Ayayi saw limited playing time last year but should compete for more minutes.
The Zags have one scholarship available. USC grad transfer guard Derryck Thornton is visiting campus Tuesday and today.
Tillie’s size and ability to stretch the floor make him an intriguing NBA prospect, but his lengthy list of injuries in three years was a concern for team executives. Tillie wasn’t able to show off his game after suffering a sprained ankle in his first NBA workout with the Atlanta Hawks and was forced to skip the NBA draft combine.
He still appeared on a few mock draft boards as a second-round pick and was in the top 100 player rankings, according to several media outlets. The NBA isn’t the only option, particularly for many of Gonzaga’s top international players. Tillie, for example, probably could have made good money in his native France and Europe.
Tillie missed 15 games this season with a stress fracture in his ankle and a partially torn plantar fascia in his foot. His hip injury kept him out of the 2018 NCAA Tournament Sweet 16 game against Florida State and likely prevented him from declaring for the draft after the season.
When healthy, Tillie ranks among the best bigs nationally. He has a soft shooting touch around the basket, a nose for the ball, and he’s a capable passer and rim protector. Coach Mark Few has called Tillie a “problem solver.”
Tillie was voted most outstanding player of the 2018 WCC Tournament after knocking down 13 of 14 3-point attempts and entered last season as an All-America honorable mention pick by one media outlet.
Tillie, who will have time to add to his 220-pound frame, figures to be a primary option in the Zags’ offense. It’s easy to picture him moving into first-round consideration with a solid, injury-free senior season and a skill set that meshes with the modern NBA game.
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