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Gonzaga’s international contingent finds home away from home for the holidays

UPDATED: Tue., Dec. 24, 2019

By Justin Reed The Spokesman-Review

Traveling to see family for Christmas is commonplace. Whether it be across town or across the country, families make it work.

What if your family lives on the other side of the world?

Multiple Gonzaga basketball players face that conundrum each season as the Zags continue to cast a worldwide net for basketball recruits.

Killian Tillie and Joel Ayayi grew up about 500 miles away from each other. Instead of taking a transcontinental flight to France, the two Frenchmen are tagging along with sophomore Matthew Lang to his hometown of Portland.

“It is going to be super fun, I can’t wait,” Lang said. “I just want to give them a place to have Christmas with a family, with people that they know, because otherwise they would just be stuck here with themselves, which would be a bummer. It is going to be a show, but it is going to be fun.”

The three had an opportunity to catch a Trail Blazers game on Monday night courtesy of former Bulldog Zach Collins.

Outside of the game, Lang wants to show the two what the Rose City has to offer and, per family tradition, catch Christmas Eve mass.

When Christmas Day rolls around, Lang always could use a new pair of Nike Air Force 1s, while Tillie has to wait for his gift.

“My brothers ordered me something, but I still don’t know because the (GU mail services are closed), so I am going to have to wait until after Christmas,” Tillie said.

Ayayi is happy to be with Lang and Tillie for Christmas, holding a deeper insight into his hopes for Christmas.

“I am not as young as I used to be when I was searching for presents, but now I just (wish) for health,” Ayayi said. “I don’t have my family over here, but just be with your loved ones and enjoy your time.”

The rest of the Zags who are headed home – most of the U.S. players – are just pumped to have this week break to head home and be with family, some of whom they haven’t seen since GU’s practices started around Hoopfest weekend.

“(Can’t wait to be) back to see all my friends and family again. It will be nice to be back for a little bit,” Drew Timme said.

Timme’s Christmas traditions align with the rest of the state of Texas – football.

“We just watch whatever bowl is on,” he said. “We are a big football family and we love to watch it, so it is a good bonding time for us to kind of hang out and relax.”

Timme’s college football allegiance was formed because of his dad’s alma mater.

“SMU (Southern Methodist University), my dad played there back in the day and it has just been my team, but college football playoffwise, I am rooting for the (LSU) Tigers,” he said.

When the rest of the students are already on the road or in the air for break, the Zags had to stick around to play North Carolina and Eastern Washington.

To fill in the time outside of practice and the games, the Bulldogs take their competitiveness off the court and in front of the TV with an Xbox controller in their hands.

Freshman Will Graves is in the minority as he doesn’t have an Xbox.

“I kind of want an Xbox because everyone on our team has one and I am the odd one out – especially when we are on break and we have no school,” he said. “That would be at the top.”

Now that the Bulldogs get a week off the court, Graves is getting out of Spokane and headed to Oregon to join the rest of his family, including his mom, his dad and his dogs. His father, Kelly Graves, previously coached the Gonzaga women and is the coach of the second-ranked Oregon women.

Spokane native Anton Watson will spend time with both sides of his family, but he hopes to see some denim appear when he opens up presents from under the tree.

“I always love getting clothes,” Watson said. “I just like when my mom gets me jeans that actually fit me because I can’t find them. She always finds a way.”

Graduate senior Ryan Wooldridge caught a red-eye flight the day of the EWU game to make sure he maximized the time he spent with his family in Texas, specifically his sister and his younger brother.

His family members were in Spokane for a week leading up to the Eagles game, but they returned home to Texas for Christmas.

Corey Kispert took a flight home to Edmonds, Washington, the day after EWU, and he is looking forward to his normal family traditions.

First, a big serving of homemade stew before the family heads to mass on Christmas Eve. Then when the Kisperts wake on Christmas Day, there is no getting ready – it is pajamas and no questions are asked.

“Christmas Day is always in pajamas. There is no dressing up in our house, which I love,” he said.

Add in a lot of homemade desserts – like his mother’s pies – and Christmas is complete.

“She likes to fatten me up when I come home,” he said.

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