It was easy to spot Nigel Williams-Goss, Johnathan Williams and Jeremy Jones last season at Gonzaga home games.
Stylishly dressed, they rebounded for teammates in warm-ups and then took a seat on the bench. A natural bond was formed as the trio faced similar circumstances, unable to play for one year under NCAA transfer rules.
“Nigel was my roommate last year,” Williams said. “Jeremy is my roommate this year.”
“I couldn’t imagine doing all that stuff by myself,” Jones said. “Game-day lifts, when the guys were on the road we still had lifts, still had workouts. We’d always meet up together, hold each other accountable.”
Home games brought out the best in their closets.
“They (teammates) were excited for the games,” Williams-Goss said. “We were excited to get dressed up. It was something we had fun with.”
More than 19 months removed from suiting up for a game, their long wait is about to end as the 13th-ranked Zags launch another promising season.
Add to the mix Jordan Mathews, a Cal sharpshooter who crammed in six classes over 12 summer weeks to earn his degree and become eligible immediately as a graduate transfer.
Mathews played with Williams-Goss on the California Supreme AAU team and against the point guard in the Pac-12.
“Four times, never lost to the Huskies,” Mathews said, “and I don’t plan on starting this year.”
Williams-Goss, Williams and Mathews appear to be locks in the rotation. Jones could carve out time at small and power forward.
From Dawg to Bulldog
Williams-Goss left Washington primarily because of the shifting roster. He cited two players transferring prior to his sophomore year, another dismissed during the season and two more exiting following the season, as well as an assistant coach.
“A ton of changes going on,” he said. “It wasn’t as much (about the win-loss record) as some would believe it to be. It was more the direction they were going in and more as far as my player development.”
He was a third-team academic All-American at UW, the first in program history. Academics were hammered home by his parents. His mom has a master’s degree in human services.
“I’m definitely not one of those guys that it just clicks,” said Williams-Goss, who carries a 3.86 grade-point average in psychology. “I have to make sure I’m going to office hours, group sessions and meeting with my professors.”
His smarts translate to the court.
“Big-time floor general,” Mathews said. “When we played him his sophomore year we had to pick up Nigel fullcourt because he was such a threat to kick it ahead.
“Not a lot of guys do this: He’ll make a play specifically to find others. A lot of guys like to make a play for themselves and when they don’t have it they’ll look for somebody else. He’ll come down the lane with the intent of kicking it out.”
Williams-Goss called GU’s roster of transfers, newcomers and returners “extremely deep at every position.
“That will be big for us, and our willingness to buy into the system and coaches,” said Williams-Goss, a 2013 McDonald’s All-American. “We have a lot of transfers and new guys but I feel all of our goals are the same.”
Experiencing something different
Mathews has Bay Area roots. Father Phil was head coach at San Francisco from 1996-2004. Cal was coming off an NCAA Tournament season and had the makings of another quality team.
So why leave?
“There were some things that weren’t exactly in my control,” Mathews said. “We had a great run, I loved my teammates, but I got my degree and I thought I should try to experience something different.”
It certainly helped that Zags assistant Donny Daniels and Phil Mathews are close friends. Still, Mathews slept on the decision. Twice.
“I did this thing where I slept on it and said, ‘OK, I’m staying,’ ” Mathews said. “And that didn’t quite feel right in the morning. The next night I went to bed and said, ‘I’m leaving.’ I woke up and that felt perfect.”
Mathews arrived on campus in late August.
“I’m just starting to get it (the system),” he said. “I had a big breakthrough recently. We have so many actions and things we’re looking for in those actions. It’s been an interesting transition.”
Mathews offers a blunt self-critique.
“Can score at a high level, underrated passer, good rebounder for my position,” he said. “Could make more plays off the bounce and be more of a tenacious defender.”
Needed positive situation
Missouri won 23 games and played in the NIT in Williams’ freshman season. His world turned upside down the following season. There was a coaching change, his classmates bolted and the Tigers won only nine games.
And NCAA sanctions loomed from former coach Frank Haith’s tenure.
“Basically, I was there by myself,” he said. “All these negative things going around, I felt the need to go somewhere positive.”
He had options. Michigan State called until landing a commitment from another player. When that player de-committed, the Spartans dialed up Williams. He wasn’t interested at that point.
He considered Georgetown and SMU.
“Then one day Gonzaga called me randomly,” Williams said. “I’m like, what’s this 509 number? Talked to ‘B Mike’ (assistant coach Brian Michaelson) for the first time. We hit it off right away.”
Williams’ older brother, Johnny, who played for and graduated from George Mason, landed a job in Spokane “so I wasn’t out here by myself.”
The 6-foot-9 forward spent his redshirt season working on dribble penetration, post moves, perimeter shooting, even dunking.
“I’m more polished, more confident,” he said. “This particular offseason I had to learn how to dunk on people. It’s actually something you have to be taught, finishing through contact. Some people are naturally gifted at it, some people aren’t.”
Gridiron to hardwood
Jones has played football and basketball for “as long as I can remember.” He spent his freshman season at Rice as a redshirt quarterback on the football team and reserve wing on the basketball team.
“I just loved playing college basketball so much,” the 6-6 Jones said. “I wanted to see how good I could be and what I could accomplish if I put football aside.”
Jones said his role “is basically doing whatever the guys aren’t doing, whatever’s missing.”
“He’s done a really good job of becoming better in the energy and effort areas, and that’s going to be his role,” assistant coach Tommy Lloyd said. “Being able to guard multiple positions, versatility.”