The season officially starts next Friday, 5,900 miles away in Japan, but the Gonzaga Bulldogs have a dress rehearsal with an exhibition game against Eastern Oregon on Saturday at 5 p.m. at the McCarthey Athletic Center.
The game doesn’t count toward the record of the Zags, ranked ninth (AP) and 11th (coaches) in the two major college basketball polls, or the Mountaineers, an NAIA school located in La Grande. Eastern Oregon is 3-2, not counting an exhibition win over Langara College of Vancouver, British Columbia.
The Zags return just two starters, Kyle Wiltjer and Przemek Karnowski, from last year’s 35-3 team that advanced to the Elite Eight, but there are a number of familiar faces in the returning cast. Domantas Sabonis, who led the team in rebounding (7.1) and field-goal percentage (66.8), logged extended minutes as a freshman. He’s listed as a probable starter with Wiltjer and Karnowski as the Zags experiment with a super-sized lineup.
Redshirt freshman Josh Perkins, who played in five games before suffering a broken jaw last season, and senior Kyle Dranginis are listed as probable starters. Coach Mark Few has said the starting five and guard rotation is subject to change from game to game, if not half to half.
Returners Silas Melson and Eric McClellan should be in the mix in the backcourt, along with wing Bryan Alberts, who redshirted last season. Center Ryan Edwards, who redshirted last season after seeing limited minutes two years ago, is the fourth big.
Junior guard Kentrell Washington leads Eastern Oregon at 20.7 points and 13.3 rebounds. Senior guard Case Rada, who began his career at Sacramento State, averages 18 points and made six 3-pointers against the University of Victoria. Senior forward Bryan McGriff, who averaged a team-high 22 points and 9.6 rebounds last season, has been sidelined with an Achilles injury.
The Mountaineers have two area products: 6-foot-10 center Kalvin Johanson from Pullman High (8.4 points) and 6-6 forward Michael Hillman (8.7 points) from Post Falls High.
GU faces Pittsburgh next Friday in Okinawa, Japan, in the Armed Forces Classic.
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