Two days before No. 1 Gonzaga opens its season against Kansas, the Zags’ backcourt just got a whole lot better and deeper.
Gonzaga junior guard Andrew Nembhard, a transfer from Florida, has been granted a waiver by the NCAA. He is immediately eligible and joins a backcourt that was already packed with talent and versatility.
The news, confirmed in a Gonzaga release, came as a bit of a surprise because Nembhard indicated he would sit out this season under NCAA transfer rules when he picked Gonzaga over Duke, Georgetown, Memphis, USC and Stanford in June.
Several developments likely influenced his change of plans, including an opportunity to play for an NCAA title favorite and the potential for roster uncertainties during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The NCAA in October voted to give winter sports athletes an additional year of eligibility, a one-time provision in response to the pandemic. That means Nembhard will still have two years of eligibility after this season. The NCAA also has been approving transfers’ waiver requests at a high percentage leading up to the start of the season.
The 6-foot-5, 193-pound Nembhard adds to a Zags’ backcourt that has abundant lineup options with Jalen Suggs, Joel Ayayi, Corey Kispert, Aaron Cook, Dominick Harris and Julian Strawther.
The freshmen Suggs, the highest-ranked recruit in school history, has been the presumed starter at point guard. Nembhard has proven to be one of the top point guards in the country during two seasons at Florida. Cook, a grad transfer, put up strong stat lines at Southern Illinois.
Several of Gonzaga’s finest teams have employed two point guards on the court at the same time. Suggs, Nembhard and Cook are capable of playing multiple guard positions.
Ayayi and Kispert, a preseason All-America, are returning starters and mainstays at shooting guard/wing. Freshmen Strawther and Harris are combo guards. The 6-7 Kispert was quite effective at times at the ‘4’ last season and that remains very much in the playbook. It could also open up more minutes for others at the guard/wing positions.
The 6-7 Strawther also has the size to play the 4, but he’s been limited at practice with a hip injury.
Nembhard was a two-year starter at point guard for Florida. He averaged 11.2 points and 5.6 assists last season. He ranked 49th nationally with a 2.16 assist-to-turnover ratio. He averaged 33 minutes per game with career averages of 48.8% from the field, 32.7% at the 3-point line and 77% at the free-throw line.
Nembhard declared for the NBA draft but withdrew in May and entered the transfer portal. He was a five-star recruit, ranked 20th nationally by 247sports coming out of Montverde (Florida) Academy. Gonzaga was a finalist for Nembhard when he picked the Gators in 2017.
“Gonzaga checks a lot of boxes for me,” Nembhard told The Spokesman-Review in June. “The style of play suits me, I think I can jell with the players and I feel very comfortable with the coaching staff. I think I can succeed as a player and off the court.”
Nembhard grew up in Aurora, outside Toronto and about 10 minutes away from former Zags great Kevin Pangos’ hometown. Nembhard has played with Pangos, Kelly Olynyk and Kyle Wiltjer on Canadian national teams the past few years.
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