It isn’t just about replacing Kevin Pangos’ and Gary Bell Jr.’s combined 8,512 minutes, 3,115 points, 541 3-pointers, 40-percent plus 3-point accuracy and stellar assist-to-turnover ratios.
Or their All-WCC recognition, player of the year and defensive player of the year honors.
It’s also about replacing their leadership, selflessness, communication, consistency and consummate attention to detail.
The backcourt duo of Pangos and Bell supplied stats, intangibles and peace of mind for Gonzaga for four years but they are playing professionally overseas, leaving behind two job openings and Shaq-sized shoes to fill.
“You prepared yourself for it, but I’m not being truthful if it hasn’t been a source of frustration pretty much every day,” coach Mark Few said. “If we could get (the current guards) to value that type of detail, they have some innate abilities that are different than what we’ve had. Getting them to be consistently good at everything is a real challenge.”
Make that three vacancies. Wing Byron Wesley was an ideal fit in his only season and replacing him could prove as tough as replacing Pangos and Bell.
The list of candidates for the three spots is five deep with no shortage of talent. Unlike when Pangos and Bell took over as true freshmen in 2011, four of the five have collegiate experience, spanning Josh Perkins’ five-game stint, before suffering a season-ending broken jaw, to Eric McClellan’s 60 games (18 at GU) to Kyle Dranginis’ 107 appearances in 109 possible GU games.
Perkins’ injury removed the redshirt from Silas Melson, who averaged nearly 10 minutes in 31 games. Wing Bryan Alberts redshirted last season.
So who is in position to earn starting jobs and important minutes? Depends on the minute, the hour, the practice, the scrimmage.
“Last year at this time we all kind of knew he’s going to play a lot, he’s going to play a lot, whereas (this year) I think they’re too evenly matched in their abilities,” Few said. “The big hope is these guys can continue to grow as we move along, which gives us a good upside. Maybe that’s a little different from what we’ve had in the past because what you’ve seen in November – which wasn’t bad, we were always pretty darn good – has been what we’ve been all the way.”
Perkins is the frontrunner at point guard. McClellan and Dranginis are versatile enough to help at multiple positions. Melson and Alberts have perimeter shooting ability, a valued commodity minus Pangos and Bell.
“Those two guards were tremendous for this program for four years,” McClellan said. “I think the guards we have now are a bit more athletic, a bit riskier in the chances we take. To be honest, you might see a bit more turnovers, but I think you’ll see us getting up and down the floor quicker and probably more in the passing lanes and more steals.”
Melson experienced Bell’s tenacity firsthand.
“He used to lock up in practice the whole 2½ hours,” Melson said. “I used to hate getting guarded by him. I’m trying to be that way.”
The Zags are loaded inside with Kyle Wiltjer, Domantas Sabonis and Przemek Karnowski. Coaches have said the trio will play together at times, depending on matchups. To some degree, the frontcourt prowess should make it easier on the guards.
“They need to be good offensive players, too,” Few said. “They can’t just rely on these bigs. They have to find their way.”
Along with the coaches.
“With these guys, it’s different, it’s just different,” Few said of the changing of the guards. “Therein lies one of the many challenges we have this year.”
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