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Sports >  Gonzaga basketball

Zags install base principles in early practices

Sophomore guards Silas Melson, left, and Josh Perkins, are “veterans” on the current Gonzaga basketball team. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)
Sophomore guards Silas Melson, left, and Josh Perkins, are “veterans” on the current Gonzaga basketball team. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)

There will be some traffic merging inside the McCarthey Athletic Center as Gonzaga steers through preseason practices with an intriguing roster.

The 17-player breakdown: Eight, including three walk-ons, have GU game experience. Center Przemek Karnowski is by far the most experienced with 113 career games but he’s returning from a back injury that limited him to five games last season.

Next in the experience line are guards Josh Perkins (41 games, 29.5 minutes per game) and Silas Melson (67, 16.1 mpg), and center Ryan Edwards (48, 7.4 mpg).

Nine, including five freshmen, have never suited up in a Zag game but three are transfers with more court time than anyone in the program not named Karnowski. Jordan Mathews played in 102 games at Cal, Nigel Williams-Goss averaged 35 minutes in 62 appearances for Washington and Johnathan Williams averaged nearly 28 minutes in 67 games with Missouri.

Williams-Goss, Williams and forward Jeremy Jones, who played in 24 games at Rice in 2014-15, redshirted last year but were able to practice with the team.

“It’s a little different this year than last,” said Brian Michaelson, entering his fourth season as an assistant coach. “There are obviously more bodies and more bodies that haven’t played in a Gonzaga uniform. Within that, there are a lot of details: What lineups work well, what combinations of guards, of bigs, who works best at a certain spot on an offensive play.”

Opening week practices generally launch from the same starting point: Working on the base packages of the offense, defense and rebounding. It won’t be new material for the Zags since the NCAA allows coaches to work with players for eight hours per week during the summer and September.

Freshmen Zach Collins, Zach Norvell and Rui Hachimura were on campus this summer. Mathews was a later arrival because he was completing his degree from Cal.

“Fundamentals, concepts, language that we call certain things,” seventh-year assistant coach Donny Daniels said of the early practice goals. “The other big thing is guys getting to know one another.

“It’s one thing for us to get to know them but the guys are going to be around each other almost 24-7 and you have a lot of different personalities. You’re trying to get a cohesive unit and get them to buy into what we want to do.”

Once base systems are in place, coaches begin adding pages to the playbook at both ends of the floor.

“Whatever you do in that first week or two, you can’t lose that base,” Michaelson said. “They have to retain it and it has to improve while we’re adding layers in the weeks that follow. You might add a handful of plays offensively one week, three more the next.

“Same thing defensively. The three things other than our base package: How are we going to guard a post, an on-ball screen and an off-ball screen? Eventually you get into full-court press and trap packages, transition defense and zone defense. We usually have a couple of different zones.”

Daniels and Michaelson noted that GU tries to recruit high IQ players, which speeds up the learning process.

“They’re doing well, as far as getting up to speed,” Daniels said. “Obviously with the older guys and the new guys are trying to find their shots, what’s a good one and how the coaching staff reacts. We could do some things if we actually had to play a game.”

GU has plenty of preparation time before an exhibition matchup with West Georgia on Nov. 5. The season opener is Nov. 11th against visiting Utah Valley.

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