There’s an old saying about not being able to tell the players without a scorecard. And nowhere is it truer these days than at Gonzaga University.
Thankfully, Friday night, as the new-look Bulldogs opened the 2016-17 basketball season with a 92-69 win over Utah Valley University at the McCarthey Athletic Center, we had some good guides.
But, to paraphrase Butch and Sundance, who were those guys?
Thanks to Sam Adams and Richard Fox, broadcasting the game on KHQ in the Spokane area, we knew. Not just who they were, but, for the most part, the journey they had to take to become a Zag.
Oh sure, there was the grizzled veteran, Pzemek Karnowski, holding down the middle. And last year’s late bloomer, Silas Melson, playing the wing. Other than that, though, the other starters head coach Mark Few put on the court in the opener were all newcomers.
There is the new point guard, Nigel Williams-Goss, the transfer from Washington, who hit 5-of-13 shots, grabbed eight rebounds and led everyone with six assists. There is the new shooting guard, California transfer Jordan Mathews, who was 4-of-7 beyond the arc and finished with 16 points and five more assists. And there is 6-foot-9 Missouri transfer Johnathan Williams, who played just 16 minutes before fouling out – four of his fouls coming on the offensive end.
Fox, the former Gonzaga big man, introduced them all, mentioning their former schools, their strengths – he pointed out Mathews was the Pac-12 best 3-point shooter as a sophomore – and their weaknesses.
By the time the Zags had opened a 45-32 halftime lead, Gonzaga fans watching at home had a pretty good feel for what the three new starters brought to the court.
But there were more, of course. Gonzaga has eight new faces on the roster and six of them played.
Frenchman Killian Tillie saw the most time off the bench, showing, as Fox said more than once, a nose for the ball and an ability to score. The 6-10 freshman had nine points and nine rebounds in 20 minutes.
Another freshman, 7-footer Zach Collins from Las Vegas, looked a little less refined but also had nine points in 16 minutes.
The final newcomer to play, Rui Hachimura, played sparingly but, at 6-8 and 225 pounds, displayed a physique that doesn’t look freshman-like. And if you were wondering why he only received 5 minutes, Fox and Adams explained that as well, noting the language barrier Hachimura, only the fifth Japanese-born athlete to play Division I basketball, was dealing with, on and off the court.
But if you were wondering why one of the Zags’ few returning starters, guard Josh Perkins, was in street clothes, you didn’t get an explanation. At least not during the broadcast.
Perkins was cited Oct. 9 for being in physical control of a vehicle while under the influence and was suspended for GU’s exhibition game and the opener.
But he wasn’t missed. At least not Friday.
Silas Melson, who Fox felt was one of the key reasons Gonzaga made the late rush to the NCAA tournament last season, hit 8-of-13 shots and finished with a team-high 17 points. And Karnowski, who missed all but five games in what was supposed to be his senior season, made his presence felt.
Fox called that as well, saying before the game “there are eight newcomers this year, but the biggest addition might be the return of Przemek Karnowski.”
Biggest, yes, physically, that’s for sure. The 7-1, 300-pound center dominated around the hoop on both ends, finishing with 14 points – on 7-of-10 shooting – and seven rebounds.
But he played just 22 minutes as he still rounds into shape following off-season – for him – back surgery.
Karnowski didn’t look like a guy coming off back surgery early on, though, diving on the floor for a loose ball just 3 minutes into the game. And he didn’t look as if he was any less nimble when he threw down a dunk less than 3 minutes into the second half.
None of that is new. Which made it about the only aspect of the opener that wasn’t.
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