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Grip on Sports: Grad transfer rule allows Crandall to take his shot in McCarthey once again

North Dakota’s Geno Crandall shoots a 3-pointer over Josh Perkins in Gonzaga’s 89-83 win over the Fighting Hawks in December. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)
North Dakota’s Geno Crandall shoots a 3-pointer over Josh Perkins in Gonzaga’s 89-83 win over the Fighting Hawks in December. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)

A GRIP ON SPORTS • When the NCAA opened the door for college graduates to transfer and play right away, there were probably only a handful of folks who knew what it would really mean. College basketball now has its version of free agency. And Gonzaga has been pretty successful in that arena. Read on.

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• It was more than a decade ago – the spring of 2006 to be exact – when the NCAA loosened up the reins a bit, allowing athletes who had completed their degree to transfer to another school, take graduate courses and be eligible to compete right away – if they had eligibility remaining.

The organization was rewarding students who had done the right thing and, seemingly, encouraging academic exploration, by mandating the new school had to offer a graduate degree the transfer’s old school didn’t. 

But every NCAA rule change has an unintended consequence. Every. Single. One. 

The unintended consequence of this change? It has opened a free agent market of sorts for anyone who has applied themselves well enough to graduate with eligibility remaining.

The first high-profile football transfer was some guy named Russell Wilson, who left North Carolina State for Wisconsin, led the Badgers to the Rose Bowl and then disappeared somewhere in the Pacific Northwest.

But football is a sport in which one or two transfers don’t usually make a huge difference. Basketball, that’s another story.

One player can change the complexion of a basketball team, taking it from good to great.

As can be expected, the first schools to do well in the grad transfer market were the high profile ones. Places like Gonzaga, which had thrived for years under Mark Few by building success with fourth- and fifth-year seniors, didn’t seem to be a destination.

But Few knew times were changing. The Zags needed to get into the marketplace to continue to compete nationally. He and his staff went looking for the right player to show the basketball world Gonzaga was a destination for grad transfers. 

Luckily for Gonzaga, Bryon Wesley was looking for a home. 

The USC guard had his degree. The Trojans had made a coaching change. In the summer of 2014, Wesley wanted a change as well. The Zags made a push. It worked. And Wesley worked for them, helping Gonzaga post a 35-3 record. 

GU assistant Tommy Lloyd will tell you Wesley was crucial for the Zags. He showed the rest of college basketball that Gonzaga could be a destination for the right one-year player.

Jordan Mathews followed, graduating from California before heading north, and playing an integral part in the Final Four run in 2017.

Which brings us to today. The Zags have a lot of pieces returning from a team that won 32 games last season. There is size inside – supplemented by San Jose State transfer Brandon Clarke, who sat out last season – and experience in the backcourt.

But Few has been looking for another guard ever since the season ended. One that can contribute next year, taking at least some of the minutes – and the many roles – Silas Melson filled last season. 

There were other targets, all of whom made different decisions. But recently Gonzaga zeroed in on former North Dakota guard Geno Crandall.

It is ironic in a way. The Fighting Hawks came into McCarthey last season a 30-point underdog and almost upset GU in overtime. 

Their main weapon? Geno Crandall, who scored 28 points. 

Crandall and Gonzaga have been dancing for a while. He had other options. But a Spokane visit last weekend, Hoopfest weekend, seemed to do the trick. (As we wrote last week, the weekend has worked in the recruiting wars for Gonzaga before.) 

Yesterday Crandall announced he is headed to GU. He’ll be eligible to play next season. He’ll play off the ball – Crandall averaged 16.6 points and shot almost 42 percent from beyond the arc last season – but still be available to spell Josh Perkins at the point – Crandall averaged 3.6 assists, though his assist-to-turnover ratio of basically 1-to-1 wasn’t good.

At 6-foot-4, 180 pounds with good length, he should fit in well within Gonzaga’s defensive scheme. 

Whether he will finish his graduate degree is another story. A non-basketball story. (According to NCAA statistics, in 2013 and 2014, only 44 percent of basketball grad transfers finished their graduate degree.)

The basketball story? Gonzaga, already considered a national title contender, will start the season in everyone’s top five. They will be among a tier of schools behind favorites Kentucky, which picked up Stanford grad transfer Reid Travis, and Kansas. 

And that was Few’s intended consequence when he wooed Crandall.

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Gonzaga: Our Jim Meehan talked with Crandall yesterday and has the most in-depth story about the transfer on the Net. … There is more of course, including how Crandall’s decision impacts the national rankings as well as the loss to North Dakota. … Jim also has a story on Gonzaga’s players following the World Cup, with only Killian Tillie’s French team still alive. … Larry Weir and Jim spoke yesterday for the Press Box pod. … Former GU standout Zach Collins is trying to add muscle

WSU: Former Washington State guard Ike Iroegbu will join Sacramento’s summer league team in Las Vegas. Theo Lawson is back and has that story. … Elsewhere in the Pac-12, throwing a dominating national title game earned Oregon State’s Kevin Abel national freshman of the year honors. … The Beavers have a new football coach. How have their coaches fared in openers? Here is the answer.

Indians: Spokane did the little things yesterday and they added up to a 3-1 win over Tri-City. Dave Nichols has the game story. … Around the Northwest League, Eugene and Everett both lost.

Golf: The Lilac City Invitational is underway at The Fairways.

Mariners: Marco Gonzales is a different pitcher this year. And that’s a great thing for the Mariners, who rode his left arm and some key hits to another win over the visiting Angels. Oh, and one huge defensive play by Dee Gordon in the 4-1 victory. … Left-handed starter Ariel Miranda became an afterthought with the emergence of Gonzales and Wade LeBlanc, so the M’s cut him loose yesterday. He is headed to Japan. … Mike Zunino injured his ankle running the bases Wednesday and is on the 10-day disabled list. That forced the Mariners to make a roster change.

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• We focused on grad transfers today, due to Crandall’s decision, but Gonzaga has done really well with the old-fashioned transfers too. In the recent past, Kyle Wiltjer, Johnathan Williams, Nigel Williams-Goss and others have bolstered the lineup. Expect Clarke to do the same. Until later … 

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