Gonzaga coach Mark Few and Creighton counterpart Greg McDermott are finalizing game plans for Sunday’s Sweet 16 contest, but they’re also knee-deep in recruiting.
The Zags have elevated their recruiting status in recent years with highly-touted freshmen, transfers and international standouts. They appear positioned to land another quality class as programs across the country encounter major changes to the recruiting landscape.
The transfer portal’s revolving door is spinning as players seek new addresses with the one-time transfer waiver allowing transfers to play immediately. There are daily reports of well-known players entering their names in the portal. The NCAA also granted an extra season of eligibility for seniors if they choose to return.
“It’s going to be an interesting spring and summer,” Few said.
“As the landscape changes in the recruiting world, you better change with it or you’re going to be left behind,” McDermott noted.
Gonzaga’s rosters over the years typically have been anchored by experienced upperclassmen, supplemented by a key transfer or two and incoming freshmen. That describes the current rotation with senior Corey Kispert, fourth-year junior Joel Ayayi, sophomores Drew Timme and Anton Watson, transfers Andrew Nembhard and Aaron Cook and freshman Jalen Suggs.
The new recruiting climate might make it tougher for some teams to grow older together as more players change programs. On the other hand, seniors have an option to extend their careers another year.
“The one thing I spend a ton of time on is just the team-building process and roster management,” Few said. “I talk to the staff all the time that we need to continue to stay as old as we can, but continue to add really good young players that can go through the development process, like we’ve talked about with Corey and Joel and so many of all the great Zags we’ve been fortunate to have over the years.
“It’s quite a balance. It’s going to be different this year, but there’s no sense in complaining. We’re certainly going to adjust to it. Our goal is stay as old as we can while adding as many great players that fit what works at Gonzaga.”
Creighton has one of the most experienced teams in the nation, featuring a starting five with at least three years in the program. The starting unit has played in 425 career games at Creighton with 321 starts.
“Part of the reason we’re still here is we have an experienced team,” McDermott said. “In a very atypical year, to get through that you have to have guys that have been there and done it and can help lead your team. The starting five has all been here at least three years. They get it.
“But the landscape is changing with transfers being immediately eligible. It could make it a little more difficult to build a program. You’re going to build a team each year rather than try to build a program.”
Numerous Zags have departed early for the pros, but Zach Collins was the first one-and-done freshman following the 2017 season. Suggs will likely become the second. Nigel Williams-Goss and Brandon Clarke, after sitting out one season under transfer rules, played one year at Gonzaga before entering the NBA draft.
Five-star recruits and high-profile transfers frequently have the Zags on their list of finalists.
The program’s success and style of play have enhanced Gonzaga’s recruiting pitch.
“We want to have a guy that has a willingness to really work outside of practice,” Few said. “They have to be a great teammate and care about winning and college, but all the while developing yourself into a great professional at the end of it.”
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