Gonzaga’s Kraziness in the Kennel scrimmage Saturday unfolded as one would expect: portions of smooth play, segments of sloppiness and veterans leading the way.
The Zags have received an abundance of preseason attention, from top-five rankings to All-America selections, but they are dealing with a shortage of available scholarship players.
Gonzaga is down to 10 after center Jacob Larsen’s decision to leave the team. That figure would become 11 if North Dakota transfer Geno Crandall enrolls, as expected, as a graduate transfer in the near future. Teams are allowed 13 scholarship players.
The current roster of 14 consists of six returners, four walk-on guards, true freshmen Greg Foster Jr. and Filip Petrusev, redshirt freshman Joel Ayayi and San Jose State transfer Brandon Clarke.
“Obviously our depth is a little bit challenged so it’s hard to go for long stretches,” coach Mark Few said. “If we can get those freshmen up to speed that’s obviously going to help. Once we’re a full team that will help, too.”
Gonzaga didn’t have a ton of depth to begin with, but the numbers are stretched even thinner. With senior point guard Josh Perkins returning from shoulder surgery and junior forward Rui Hachimura coming off a busy offseason, the coaching staff is attempting to balance quality work and rest through the first 10 days of practice.
Eleven Zags, including walk-on Jack Beach, played in the scrimmage on Saturday. Of the Blue team’s 30 points, 22 were scored by veterans Zach Norvell Jr., Killian Tillie and Jeremy Jones. Clarke, expected to be a key player after putting up big numbers at San Jose State, delivered the other eight. Of the White’s 22 points, Perkins had a team-high 10 and Hachimura added four.
“You saw the guys that have been around, the Perkinses and Norvells, making plays and making shots,” Few said. “They’ve had a lot of opportunities for big moments and know what it takes. The most important thing is to get some of the young guys, or maybe guys that haven’t played much, up to speed so they can help us when we need them.”
The younger guys had mixed results in the 15-minute scrimmage. Petrusev, a 6-foot-11 forward, struggled to connect from the outside, but his form looked fine in the 3-point contest. Petrusev, the Zags’ probable fourth big man, moves well and seemed comfortable at both ends of the court.
Foster, a 6-5 point guard, showed his athleticism in the dunk contest and had three assists in the scrimmage. He was the only player with more than one assist. He missed all four of his shots, three beyond the 3-point arc.
Ayayi scored on a nifty runner but only attempted four shots. The 6-5 guard grabbed seven rebounds, three on the offensive end.
Perkins said he won’t wear a brace during games but is following a post-game regimen that includes icing and taping.
Hachimura pulled down nine boards. He sat out the dunk contest with a sore knee that he said limited his explosiveness.
Hachimura helped his native Japan win four World Cup qualifying games, two in late June/early July and two in mid September.
“I’m so happy about the national team,” he said. “We beat Australia, obviously a good team. We beat Iran and that was a big one, too. Our next games are during (GU’s) season but I don’t think I can go. I want them to win. I want to play in the World Cup next year.”
Few wants the same thing for Hachimura, but the coach’s immediate goal is keeping the talented forward fresh for the Zags’ season.
“He’s obviously very important to our program but he’s extremely important to the (Japanese) national team, they’re trying to qualify just like Team USA is trying to qualify,” Few said. “We’re trying to pace him a little bit, had him take a week off here and there because he’s played a lot of basketball, traveled a lot and done a lot of things.
“We’re just trying to pace him so he’s not exhausted in March.”
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