It is Oct. 10, the Zags have been practicing for less than two weeks and they’ve staged a 15-minute scrimmage in front of an overflow crowd at the McCarthey Athletic Center.
Must be time for four way-too-early observations after Saturday’s Kraziness in the Kennel. Here’s what caught our eye:
Ladies and gentlemen, Brandon Clarke
Saturday wasn’t the San Jose State transfer’s formal introduction to Gonzaga fans. That came last year, when he won the dunk contest and played in the Kraziness scrimmage. But the fans’ attention probably drifted toward his teammates, knowing Clarke would have to sit out the season under NCAA transfer rules.
The 6-foot-8 Clarke collected eight points, six rebounds and five blocks. Most of those swats came against preseason All-American Rui Hachimura, who wasn’t at his acrobatic best because of a sore knee. Still, it was an impressive defensive effort.
“He’s obviously athletic,” Hachimura said. “He can do anything. He’s going to be a big player for us, definitely.”
Clarke scored the Blue team’s first six points, opening with a dunk on a nice feed from Zach Norvell Jr. He added a drive and bank shot from close range and a pair of free throws. Clarke had a tip-in late as the Blue team pulled away from the White team 30-22.
“I like driving the ball,” Clarke said. “Obviously, I’m not just going to be a post player. I’m going to catch, rip through and drive.”
Clarke said he’s gained about 10 pounds of muscle since arriving at GU.
“You guys got to see what we saw all year in practice,” coach Mark Few said. “He’s athletic, quick jumper, aggressive, a variety of ways to score and also a heck of a defender.”
Norvell, known to teammates by his nickname “Snacks,” wasn’t in midseason form, but he still filled the stat sheet. There were only two zeros, offensive rebounds and fouls, on his stat line.
Norvell produced 12 straight points for the Blue, showing off his assortment of scoring options. He finished inside while being fouled, then used a crossover to create space for a 3-pointer. He got free for a layup and drew a foul with dribble penetration.
Hachimura swatted away a Norvell shot, but the 6-5 sophomore shrugged it off, took the inbounds pass and buried a midrange jumper.
“Just being ultraconfident at all times,” Norvell said.
Norvell said his off-season to-do list included “just trying to get my pace together, pick my spots and become more of a vocal leader. It’s my third year in the program and I kind of know what the coaches expect, so I’m just trying to be that guy that can help out the next person.”
This caught our eye in the 3-point contest – Josh Perkins and Norvell put on a show in the final – but not necessarily in the scrimmage, when the Zags were 3 of 21. Still, the Zags figure to field one of their better perimeter shooting teams, especially if North Dakota transfer Geno Crandall arrives in the near future.
Perkins is a 39-percent 3-point shooter with 198 career 3-pointers. Crandall made 41.7 percent from deep last season. Norvell highlighted his 37-percent accuracy with numerous clutch threes (see UNC Greensboro, Ohio State, BYU, San Diego, Creighton).
Killian Tillie hit 47.8 percent in limited attempts as a freshman and 47.9 percent of his 94 attempts in 2018. Corey Kispert hit a modest 35 percent as a freshman, but he arrived at GU with solid 3-point credentials. Freshman forward Filip Petrusev has the ability to stretch the floor.
Hachimura was 5 of 26 beyond the arc last season, but he’s been a capable perimeter shooter for Japan in international competition. Hachimura and Clarke, who rarely took threes at San Jose State, worked diligently on their shooting in the offseason.
GU’s interior options theoretically should draw plenty of double-teams, leading to open perimeter looks for teammates.
As mentioned, Clarke blocked five shots in the scrimmage. His 77 blocks as a Spartan in 2017 ranked 20th nationally. The Zags came up with 10 swats in the scrimmage.
Even with the graduation of Johnathan Williams (team-high 40 blocks) and the departure of reserve center Jacob Larsen (15), the Zags should protect the paint with Clarke, the 6-10 Tillie (37 blocks), the 6-8 Hachimura (19) and the 6-11 Petrusev. The key, of course, will be doing so without getting into foul trouble.
“He blocks (shots) all the time,” Tillie said of Clarke. “Brandon and Rui are really good shot-blockers. I think the rim is going to be protected.”
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