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Sunday, May 31, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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More on Zags’ opening day

Read on for more on GU's first practice.

 

I have to admit it was strange seeing the Zags without Pargo, Downs, Sorenson, Heytvelt, even Daye, who was only on campus two years, and having to double-check to make sure the newcomers are who I thought they were.

“We’ve had summer and obviously fall practices, but no question (it’s different),” coach Mark Few said. “Jeremy’s energy at practice, the level of raw talent last year was impressive when we walked out on the floor. Last year, we probably had 10 NBA (scouts) at our first practice. That’s always a fair barometer of what to expect.”

There was one NBA scout at Friday’s workout, by the way. That doesn’t mean the Zags are lacking physical talent. They have a bundle of it, it’s just that much of it is in the form of true freshmen, unproven redshirt freshmen and another newcomer, sophomore Bol Kong.

“We’re trying to start really simple,” Few said. “We’re really trying to enforce the fundamentals, the things we believe in. (With the NCAA rules), you can have mini practices, an hour twice a week. Since we’ve done some of those, we’re starting to develop an understanding of how fast we can go, or how fast we can’t go is probably the better statement.”

“And you have to add in, with Elias (Harris) and Bol, they didn’t get here until a couple weeks into school. So they weren’t around for summer school, so it’s really an adjustment. Losing Austin, losing all those guys hurt, but when we lost Austin, not only was he a great player and he was going to have a great year, it kind of swung it like Senate seats. The players in the majority have no idea what’s going on around here.”

Few clearly likes the abilities of the newcomers, but cautioned not to expect too much too soon, citing Kong as an example. The sophomore forward hasn’t played in an official game since the 2008 season with Douglas College in B.C. Thanks to endless attention on the Internet and his lengthy battle to receive a Visa, Kong is one of the more highly touted prospects ever at GU and Few is trying to keep the expectations within reason.

“I have people coming up to me (asking about Kong),” Few said. “Hey, he has a ways to go. It’s going to take some time. He has to get up to speed in an organized offense and organized defense and the speed of this level. He hasn’t played against this kind of competition ever so it’s going to take some time, just like it is with the other guys.”

One of the interesting things to monitor will be whether anyone redshirts among the bigs (4s and 5s). This team doesn’t lack height (I noticed Dower all of a sudden is listed at 6-11 on GU’s Web site). I count six bigs (Foster, Sacre, Harris, Poling, Dower and Olynyk) and that’s probably one too many. Obviously it depends on injuries. But if everyone is healthy, there’s probably not enough playing time to satisfy all six and/or burn a year up on someone playing sparse minutes. Poling has already redshirted. The redshirt options appear to be Harris, Dower or Olynyk. Harris, though, has the physical tools and considerable experience internationally to play immediately, perhaps even start at 4.

Few said Dower and Olynyk are going to be fine players in time, but their impact depends on the day. “One day it’s Sam, the next it’s Kelly,” he said.  

Of Sacre, Few said: “If he stays healthy I think he’s going to have a great year. Hopefully we can get to the point where we can use Will (Foster) effectively or more consistently than we have in the past. Elias is a big, strong kid – explosive is how I would describe him. And those two big guys over there (pointing at Dower and Olynyk) are going to be a handful for some people.”

Sacre is one of four Canadians (Kong and Manny Arop are Sudanese natives who lived most of their lives in Canada).

“It is what it is,” Sacre said. “We’re just part of this team. It’s a national team thing I guess.”

Sacre, a sophomore in eligibility, is already one of the team’s most experienced players.

“It’s weird being an older guy,” he said. “Who knew two years would go by this fast. I know I have to push myself and push my teammates and make everybody better.”

Sacre, with his unique way with words, said his foot feels fine. “First class,” he said. “Couldn’t be better. I don’t do coach.”

Senior guard Matt Bouldin said GU’s talent level remains impressive, despite heavy losses from last year’s 28-6 season.

“It’s going to be a lot of teaching,” he said. “Our offense isn’t necessarily the easiest to learn, but people can pick it up quick. It’s just going to be a process and it’ll take us a while to click.

“We’re very talented, exceptionally talented. This could be one of the more special classes we’ve had coming in. The amount of talent, athleticism is second to none, even last year’s team. It’s like that in terms of athleticism. We have just as much athleticism with this class.”

Bouldin said last spring he considered bypassing his senior season to make himself eligible for the NBA Draft, but decided to return.

“Everybody thinks about that,” he said. “A lot of people say test the waters. For me I wanted to get my degree and experience this one more time. If I was going to do it I was going to go all in, and I wasn’t ready to do that, I wasn’t there. There were definitely people who pushed me to do it, I just didn’t want to.”

Bouldin said he’s comfortable taking on the role of team leader, but he’s not ready to fill Ira Brown’s shoes as team grandpa.

“I guess I’m the old guy – in terms of experience, not age,” he said. “I think Bol might be older than me, maybe Will. P-Maag is older than me. Actually we’re all around the same age -- 20, 21.”

One final note: There were a handful of high school coaches and perhaps 6 or 7 from Taiwan observing practice. The coaches from Taiwan will watch GU’s men and women practice for a couple of weeks. They attended Duke’s and North Carolina’s practices the last two years.

 




Jim Meehan
Jim Meehan joined The Spokesman-Review in 1990. Jim is currently a reporter for the Sports Desk and covers Gonzaga University basketball, Spokane Empire football, college volleyball and golf.

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