Welcome to old home week for Gonzaga and Baylor, with a dash of Illinois, all coming together in Indianapolis.
Fresh from impressive victories Wednesday, top-ranked Gonzaga and No. 2 Baylor collide Saturday at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. There are connections aplenty.
Former Gonzaga director of operations John Jakus left after the Zags’ run to the 2017 NCAA championship game to become an assistant coach at Baylor. Jakus helped popular Gonzaga walk-on Rem Bakamus land a graduate assistant coach position with the Bears in 2018.
Baylor took down No. 5 Illinois 82-69 after the Zags edged No. 11 West Virginia 87-82 in the Jimmy V Classic doubleheader in Indianapolis. Stephen Gentry, a former GU walk-on and director of operations, is in his second year as an Illinois assistant coach.
“All of the teams have some Gonzaga footprints on them, with Gentry at Illinois and myself and JJ (Jakus) at Baylor,” Bakamus said in a recent phone interview. “And we’re playing in the home of (ex-Zag and Indiana Pacers All-Star) Domantas Sabonis. It’s going to be fun.”
Bakamus and Gentry didn’t cross paths at Gonzaga, but “I know his story, being a former walk-on,” Bakamus said. “He came back to GU a year after I left.”
Bakamus had a close-up look at his former team Wednesday, but he already had a feel for the Zags’ personnel.
“Obviously, the Zags are just loaded,” he said. “I watched Kraziness in the Kennel and was just shocked how much talent they have on the court between the freshmen and the vets. That’s a scary team.”
Gonzaga is averaging 93 points through three games. Five players – Drew Timme, Corey Kispert, Joel Ayayi, Jalen Suggs and Andrew Nembhard – have scored 253 of the Zags’ 279 points.
Baylor is averaging 93.3 points and allowing 67.7.
“They have two guys who were on our staff and in our program that know us better than anybody,” Gonzaga coach Mark Few said in a postgame Zoom call. “So we’re kind of going in with one hand tied behind our back. We don’t have intel on their staff. Obviously, John and Rem are two guys that mean the world to all of us, so that makes it tough in one way.
“It’ll be fun. Unfortunately we won’t have fans (due to COVID-19 protocols) because it would have been a packed arena, but hopefully we’ll put on a good show.”
Brandon Clarke was the show in the most recent Gonzaga-Baylor clash, with Jakus and Bakamus watching from the opposing bench in the 2019 NCAA tournament in Salt Lake City. Clarke set a school record for NCAA Tournament points with 36 in GU’s 83-71 second-round victory over Baylor.
Bakamus, in his third season with the Bears, had hoped to move up the coaching ladder, but his job search was derailed by the pandemic.
“Coach (Scott) Drew was gracious enough to have me back,” he said. “They made a spot for me. My plan was two years, but jobs were slim this summer. It’s neat, because a lot of our players are the ones I came in with.”
Bakamus follows Gonzaga closely, but there will not be split loyalties come Saturday: “I’m excited for them every other game of the year except that one.”
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