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Sports >  Gonzaga basketball

Four-star forward Braden Huff signs with Gonzaga citing influence of Kelly Olynyk, Domantas Sabonis

UPDATED: Fri., Jan. 7, 2022

Four-star power forward Braden Huff poses for a photo in a Gonzaga T-shirt after committing to Mark Few and the Bulldogs in September.  (Courtesy/Jason Opoka)
Four-star power forward Braden Huff poses for a photo in a Gonzaga T-shirt after committing to Mark Few and the Bulldogs in September. (Courtesy/Jason Opoka)

Kelly Olynyk and Domantas Sabonis were collegiate All-Americans and double-double machines at Gonzaga who combined to win 147 games during their respective tenures with the Bulldogs before moving on to the NBA.

Both had an immeasurable impact on GU’s program while they were playing in Spokane. Years later, they’re still helping the Bulldogs in a big way.

When citing his reasons for picking coach Mark Few and the Bulldogs among a list of schools from the Big Ten, Atlantic Coast Conference and Southeastern Conference, four-star prospect Braden Huff noted the trajectory of past Gonzaga forwards who seem to share his ability to score down low, rebound at a high level and stretch the floor with their perimeter shooting.

“I picked Gonzaga because I felt like it was the best fit for me in terms of play style and could really develop me as a player during my time there,” Huff said in a school news release. “Also on top of that, I felt like the staff made it really apparent they wanted me at their school so that definitely added to it, but honestly just looking at guys like Olynyk and Sabonis who are similar to me really made the school intriguing, and although I really liked and appreciated all the other schools recruiting me, I felt like this was the place I wanted to be at just because of the history and development that goes on through this program.”

Huff unofficially became the first piece of Gonzaga’s 2022 recruiting class when he made a commitment Sept. 27. Less than two months later, the Glen Ellyn, Illinois, product became the first recruit to sign a letter of intent with the Bulldogs.

The 6-foot-9 forward from Glenbard West in the Chicago area is considered a four-star recruit by ESPN and 247Sports.com, and is the nation’s No. 33 power forward along with the fourth overall prospect in Illinois.

Per 247Sports, Huff is Gonzaga’s No. 33 all-time recruit, three spots above Rui Hachimura and 11 spots higher than Sabonis, who’s now a two-time NBA All-Star with the Indiana Pacers.

“We’re excited to have Braden join the program,” Few said in a release. “He is a really skilled player and a high-character young man. He comes from an incredible family and will be a good fit here.”

Compared to the Big Ten schools surrounding Huff in the Chicago region, Gonzaga came in relatively late when it came to the forward’s recruitment, according to Glenbard West coach Jason Opoka. Longtime Zags assistant Brian Michaelson was heavily involved, as was third-year assistant Roger Powell, who hails from the Chicago suburb of Joliet, Illinois.

“He had such a successful June and July that he’s the prototypical stretch big for Gonzaga with his ability to just handle it, facilitate and sit down on the block if need be,” Opoka told The Spokesman-Review in September. “He just stretches the floor so well because he shoots it at an incredibly high rate.”

Huff’s recruitment ramped up during the AAU circuit and his team, the Illinois Wolves, won the Under Armour Association championship, going 16-1 during July. Huff’s exposure grew as he averaged 11.4 points, 7.5 rebounds, 2.9 assists and 1.5 blocks per game while shooting 45% during the AAU run.

“First and foremost, his basketball IQ is amazing and he thrives at facilitating an offense and playing through him in your offense and that can be at the high post, that can be at the point, that can be at the block,” Opoka said. “He’s just so versatile … how he can fit is Gonzaga has a structure but gives freedom. That freedom allows Braden to do what he’s best at. Rebound to go, to create mismatches in transition when teams are backpedaling.”

While Huff cites Sabonis and Olynyk, his high school coach has another Gonzaga comparison for the forward.

“I think what people could recognize the most is just (Drew) Timme,” Opoka said. “But he can stretch you. He can play on the low block and he’s not the most athletic guy on the floor, but his intelligence and his angles and abilities make him so successful at a high rate just due to his intelligence and causing fouls and causing mismatches and making the easy play. Making the winning play.”

During Glenbard’s shortened 2020-21 season, Huff was shooting 57% from beyond the arc before “going cold” in his final two games of the season, according to Opoka. He wound up making 46% from 3-point range on approximately 40 attempts while averaging 17.5 points and 6.8 rebounds.

Opoka is also quick to point out Huff’s numbers came despite playing just 22 minutes per game – his standout forward was often on the bench by the fourth quarter of Glenbard’s blowout wins.

“He’ll do anything to sacrifice numbers for the accomplishment of winning the game or winning a championship,” Opoka said. “He’s always there for his teammates. He’s a fantastic teammate and that’s the one thing people don’t see is he’s a good person. He always has a smile on his face, he’s a great leader and he’s always positive.”

While Huff might already have the mental makeup to play the college game, Opoka suggests he still hasn’t hit his physical ceiling, joking his player “doesn’t have a hair on his chin.”

“He definitely could grow,” Opoka said. “We’re not banking on him growing, but I know to be a professional, at the college level, it’s always good to put on more inches.”

Huff is the only known member of the 2022 recruiting class, but Gonzaga has offers out to at least three uncommitted players, including five-star combo guard Anthony Black, who spoke highly of his experience in Spokane while visiting for Kraziness in the Kennel. The Bulldogs have also offered four-star point guard Richard Isaacs and five-star center Yohan Traore.

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