Geno Crandall was the final piece of Gonzaga’s roster puzzle, but he didn’t fit in right away.
His arrival was delayed while he attempted to complete his undergraduate degree from North Dakota. When Crandall finally received the OK, the freshly minted grad transfer hopped on an airplane from Minneapolis to Spokane, arrived in the early-morning hours on Oct. 13 and practiced with the team several hours later.
And practiced well. Late start, swift assimilation.
The stats don’t necessarily reflect it, but Crandall has been an important addition. His impact is growing on the court, with an eight-point, four-assist, two-steal and one ankle-breaking move on Nick Emery in Saturday’s blowout over BYU rating as one of his top performances.
Crandall’s impact in the locker room, at bowling outings and team meals has been huge since day one. That was made possible by his engaging personality, which turbocharged the bonding process with teammates.
“His personality has meant as much to us as his game has, and I don’t mean that to slight him in any way,” coach Mark Few said. “His game has meant the world to us. Putting another high-level player out there gives us so much great depth, especially on the perimeter.
“He talks and he’s enthusiastic and this is kind of quiet group. When he got here, he was able to get them going, much like when Nigel (Williams-Goss) was here. It becomes contagious and we start communicating better. It’s amazing how fast he’s gotten acclimated and joined in with these guys.”
Williams-Goss had the benefit of sitting out at Gonzaga for a season under NCAA transfer rules. Crandall came on board about two weeks before the exhibition opener.
Then, following GU’s 6-0 start, Crandall suffered a broken hand in practice and missed nine games. Sporting a brace on his right hand, Crandall dished passes during warm-ups and suited up for the North Carolina game so he could “bring energy” despite not being able to play.
Crandall soaked up Senior Night, delivering on the court and later leading the team over to the Kennel Club for high-fives.
“No, I don’t think anybody has,” said Crandall, when asked if he’d been in a similar atmosphere. “I don’t think there’s anything like this.”
Crandall, like Cal grad transfer Jordan Mathews in 2017 and USC grad transfer Byron Wesley in 2015, has watched his stats shrink but his win totals rise.
Crandall averages 5.3 points and 18.9 minutes as the first guard off the bench.
He started 90 games at North Dakota and averaged 14.3 points. He poured in 28 points as a junior as UND lost in overtime to the Zags at the McCarthey Athletic Center.
Crandall hasn’t reached 14 points in a game this season, but he walks around like the happiest guy on the planet.
“He looks for the good in everything. He’s not a guy that broods or pouts,” assistant coach Tommy Lloyd said. “You could see from the moment he got here he wasn’t shy.
“Sometimes some of the guys that have been here an extended period of time, it’s all they know. You get a guy like Geno, coming from a totally different environment, everything that comes with being a Zag he really appreciates. He lets our guys know they have it pretty good.”
The Zags have a track record of success with international recruits, and lately the same could be said with grad transfers. Wesley averaged 10.6 points and 4.7 rebounds on a 35-win team that lost to Duke in the Elite Eight. Mathews averaged 10.6 points and hit one of the biggest shots in program history, a late 3-pointer that spurred GU past West Virginia in the 2017 Sweet 16.
“It’s not easy when you have an established team that’s probably going to be pretty good anyway, and you’re looking at another piece to put you over the top,” Lloyd said. “As players, that can be a sensitive issue, but they’ve been amazing about embracing the incoming guys.”
Crandall has embraced his role coming off the bench, pressuring on defense and pushing the pace.
“We definitely have a mindset of bigger goals,” he said. “That kind of propels us to be our best every day.”
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