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Gonzaga Basketball

5-star guard Hunter Sallis commits to Gonzaga, becomes highest-rated recruit in program history

Hunter Sallis, a standout 6-foot-5 guard at Millard North High in Omaha, Nebraska, celebrated his 18th birthday Friday by announcing his commitment to Gonzaga.

Sallis becomes the highest-rated recruit in program history in 247sports’ composite rankings. He’s No. 6 in the 2021 class. Freshman point guard Jalen Suggs was 10th when he committed to Gonzaga and No. 11 in the final 2020 rankings. The composite rankings are a combination of 247sports, ESPN and Rivals ratings.

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Sallis kept a close eye on how Suggs fit with the Zags this season.

“That was also a big part of it,” Sallis said in a phone interview. “Watching Jalen play this year and see how he’s playing and I’ll be able to fill that role. That’s why I wanted to watch this season to see how well he fit.”

Sallis said his final three were Gonzaga, North Carolina and Creighton, the latter located in his hometown of Omaha. The Zags face Creighton in the Sweet 16 on Sunday.

Before Sallis soared up recruiting rankings and was named to McDonald’s All-American and the USA Nike Hoop Summit rosters, he was a promising young prospect that caught the attention of Gonzaga’s coaching staff.

“Coach Tommy Lloyd, coach Roger Powell (Jr.), (head) coach Mark Few, all those visits they made here,” Millard North coach Tim Cannon said during the announcement festivities in the school gym. “One was on a Sunday afternoon I remember, coming to watch your games. They came here, they were on the road. This is a great, great day.”

Sallis said Gonzaga’s involvement early on was “really important.

“They liked me before everything else,” Sallis said. “They also told me they would have been recruiting me if I was the 500th best or sixth best. That’s one thing coach Lloyd always told me.”

Sallis made an official recruiting visit to Gonzaga during his junior year. COVID-19 pandemic restrictions limited his opportunities to take visits elsewhere, but his trip to Spokane made a lasting impression.

Still, he didn’t make up his mind until Monday.

“Just the success they’ve been having over the years, and really when I went on my official visit it felt like home and somewhere I could be and have fun with my teammates and coaches,” Sallis said.

Sallis joins Kaden Perry, a 6-9 forward at Battle Ground (Washington) High, in Gonzaga’s 2021 class. Ben Gregg was in the 2021 class, but he graduated early from high school and joined the Zags in December. Chinese native Fanbo Zeng, a top-70 recruit in the 2022 class, is considering reclassifying to 2021.

Sallis was one of 10 semifinalists for the Naismith Trophy high school player of the year that went to Gonzaga recruit Chet Holmgren, ranked No. 1 in the 2021 class. The Zags are the favorites for Holmgren, according to 247sports crystal ball projections.

The McDonald’s All-American game won’t be played due to the pandemic, but Sallis and Holmgren were named to the 24-player roster. Sallis, Holmgren and Perry on Thursday were named to the USA Nike Hoop Summit team. The Summit game has also been canceled.

The 175-pound Sallis should have a major role next season. He can play the point or off guard, score at all three levels and defend multiple positions.

Gonzaga is expected to lose Suggs to the NBA. He’s considered a top-five pick in most NBA mock drafts. It’s uncertain what the rest of the backcourt will look like next season. Junior Joel Ayayi and junior Andrew Nembhard declared for the draft last year before returning to school. In Nemhbard’s case, he withdrew his name and opted to transfer to Gonzaga.

The NCAA has granted seniors an option of returning for an additional year. Aaron Cook hasn’t announced his plans for next season. Freshman guard Dominick Harris and wing Julian Strawther joined Suggs in Gonzaga’s highest-ranked recruiting class.

Sallis had 25 points, five rebounds and five assists as Millard North beat Bellevue West 84-78 in overtime earlier this month for the school’s first state championship.

“Hunter, some memories,” Cannon said. “The skinny freshman, barely 6-foot, real skinny, but doing a great job. By your sophomore year, you’d grown and were getting better. I remember one of the recruiting coaches standing right there and telling (Hunter’s mom) Jessica, and I overheard it, ‘I think I found my next NBA guy.’

“Let that drop for now. There’s wonderful college years (ahead), but that was quite a statement. I remember when you first dunked in open gym and your teammates started going, ‘Huh, we have a new Hunter.’ ”