Filip Petrusev has played his last game in a Gonzaga uniform.
Petrusev, who declared for the NBA draft in April, is joining Mega Bemax, the professional team in his hometown of Belgrade, Serbia. The 6-foot-11 forward informed Gonzaga’s coaching staff Monday morning he wouldn’t return for his junior season.
Petrusev’s departure is a blow to the frontcourt but Gonzaga returns multiple inside options, led by rising sophomore Drew Timme. Still, the Zags, projected as a national championship contender and possibly the preseason No. 1, lose an inside force and one of the nation’s top post players last season.
Petrusev’s decision isn’t a big surprise, particularly with rising concerns about the return of college athletics this fall and winter due to the recent spike in COVID-19 cases. He’s been a standout on Serbian youth national teams.
Petrusev, despite a decorated sophomore season, wasn’t listed in most NBA two-round mock drafts and analysts questioned if his paint-oriented style would fit in a league that values forwards and centers that can space the floor and defend smaller players.
“There’s a lot of uncertainty with the NCAA season,” Petrusev told ESPN. “Here I should be able to showcase some skills I wasn’t able to at Gonzaga and improve my draft stock.”
Petrusev transformed his game after seeing limited minutes and spending quite a bit of time on the perimeter as a freshman – similar to what Kelly Olynyk did following a redshirt year after his sophomore season. Petrusev used his size on the low block and soft touch with his right or left hand to score or apply foul pressure last season. His 238 free throws ranked fourth in attempts by a Division I player.
His production – team-leading 17.5 points, 7.9 rebounds – was rewarded with recognition on at least seven All-America teams. He was the WCC player of the year and a finalist for the Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Center of the Year Award.
“We wish Filip all the best,” Zags coach Mark Few said in a school release. “He improved tremendously with our program and had a great two-year run here.”
Petrusev will need to show improved shooting range and free-throw accuracy and more versatility on the defensive end to elevate his NBA draft stock. He made 9 of 30 3-pointers (30%) and 85.3% at the foul line as a freshman but was just 2 of 11 (18.2%) from distance and 65.5% on free throws last season.
Mega Bemax has had 10 players drafted since 2014, including Denver Nuggets two-time All-Star Nikola Jokic.
Petrusev likely would have had an opportunity to display his perimeter skills at Gonzaga, but it was apparent that he did his best work closer to the basket. There also was a chance he would cede some playing time due to Timme’s emergence and interior options Oumar Ballo and Pavel Zakharov.
The 6-10 Timme averaged 9.8 points, 5.4 rebounds and made a team-high 62.1% from the field as a freshman. He played his best basketball in the second half of the season while showing off an array of moves and a variety of ways he could score.
The 6-10 Ballo, required by the NCAA to sit out last season for academic reasons, was one of the top international recruits in the 2019 class and he’s put up big stats in international competition. The Mali native reportedly thinned down from his listed weight of 260 pounds last season. The 6-11 Zakharov played just 85 minutes a year ago but he has a good frame and his best days are ahead of him with additional experience.
Petrusev said he will keep his name in the draft. He also declared for the draft, apparently at the urging of his father, after averaging 11.8 minutes per game as a freshman.
Gonzaga is awaiting word on early entrants Corey Kispert and Joel Ayayi. They have until Aug. 3 to decide if they will remain in the Oct. 16 draft or return to the Zags.
In many ways, Petrusev’s absence will be easier to replace than if Kispert and/or Ayayi opt for the pros. Timme is poised to step into a starting role along with Anton Watson at the ‘4’. The depth isn’t as strong or as proven behind Kispert at the wing and Ayayi at guard.
“Simply put, even without Petrusev, I still think Gonzaga is, on paper, the team most likely to win the 2021 NCAA Tournament – provided Kispert and Ayayi both eventually withdraw from the NBA draft,” CBS Sports’ Gary Parrish wrote in his latest Top 25 and 1 that lists GU at No. 1.
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