Filip Petrusev joined a Gonzaga program with five legitimate big men on the roster. By late October, center Jacob Larsen had left the team to focus on his academics and forward Killian Tillie was diagnosed with a stress fracture in his right ankle.
Petrusev, thrust into the main rotation to begin the season, quickly had to adapt to American-style Division I college basketball.
“I think he is doing great,” Tillie said. “The beginning was a little tough, but he is getting better and better. In practice, he is just killing everybody.”
Petrusev played almost 15 minutes a game during nonconference play while Tillie was injured. But once the junior from Cagnes-sur-Mer, France, returned last month, Petrusev has seen his playing time cut to just over six minutes a game.
“He is being more aggressive during practices, and he is definitely good enough to play,” Tillie said. “He is trying to show the coaches that he can do some things, and I think he is doing great.”
For a young player used to being the focal point of a team – Petrusev was one of the best players on the under-18 Serbian national team – the adjustment to losing playing time could lead to less motivation. But both Tillie and Brandon Clarke, his frontcourt mates, haven’t seen a drop-off in effort. If anything, it has lit a fire under the true freshman from Belgrade, Serbia.
“I think he has been doing better in practice since, really,” Clarke said. “I think the coaches were kind of on him and wanted more from him, and he has been doing great during practice time. I feel like if he keeps working during practice this year and next year, he’ll have a really big role for this team.”
Tillie knows that Petrusev could play more minutes if needed. He averaged 8.5 points per game before Tillie came back, showing impressive touch around the basket. His ability to score from anywhere makes it tough on opposing defenses.
“I’ll say one thing, during practice he is really, really hard to guard,” Clarke said. “He can score with his right and left hand in the post really easily, and he can shoot really well, clearly.”
There is a chance that Petrusev might be the most senior big man on the team once next season rolls around.
“On this team, there are just three older players, so he is just kind of behind them,” Clarke said. “He is still a really big player, and next year he will have a really big role on this team.”
Former player and graduate assistant Adam Morrison offered his thoughts on Petrusev’s lack of playing time.
“I think he understands that with Killian (Tillie) coming back, there are three guys playing a lot of minutes,” Morrison said.
“So you just tell him to use the practice as a tool to develop for next season, and that your time will come. So I think that is the message, and that has happened before in our program, so he’ll be fine.”
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