Freshman Hunter Sallis is just three games into his Gonzaga career, but he’s already showing many of the qualities that made him a five-star recruit.
The 6-foot-5 guard from Omaha, Nebraska, had his most productive night of the early season with 16 points in Gonzaga’s 84-57 blowout Monday over visiting Alcorn State.
Sallis has displayed an ability to find open space cutting down the baseline, snag offensive rebounds and convert in transition – all trademarks of former Gonzaga standout Joel Ayayi’s game. The two have similar rangy body types.
“We’ve watched a lot of tape with him on Joel, him and Julian (Strawther),” Gonzaga coach Mark Few said. “That cutting is a real advantage to have, the timing of it and the understanding of it. I think he’s done an exceptional job with that so far.
“He’s still working on (finishing in transition). He’s so athletic, he needs to take it up strong and finish it. That’s definitely one of his strengths, his open-court stuff.”
Sallis slipped down the baseline soon after entering in the first half, took a pass and was fouled near the rim. He made both free throws. A few possessions later, Sallis had a steal and used a smooth hesitation move near the free-throw line for a layup.
He connected on 6 of 9 shots and grabbed a pair of offensive rebounds, another strength of Ayayi, who is on a two-way contract with Washington.
“He can thrive for us, honestly, in that Joel role,” senior guard Andrew Nembhard said. “Cut on the baseline, find the easy baskets. He’s super athletic and can finish around the rim. I think that’s a great role for him.”
Sallis and Strawther should benefit from bigs that are capable passers. Drew Timme, two nights after scoring a career-high 37 points against No. 5 Texas, had a career-best six assists.
“I think that’s one of his underrated skills,” Few said of Timme’s passing.
Anton Watson and Chet Holmgren each had four assists. The three forwards combined for 14 of Gonzaga’s 26 assists on 34 baskets.
“Me and Hunter, both those wing types for this team, being able to find those easy baskets and be outlet dudes for Drew when he’s getting double-teamed and be that safety blanket for him,” said Strawther, who finished with a team-high 18 points.
Few wants to build on Sallis’ defensive ability as the schedule toughens up in the next 10 days with games against UCLA and Duke in Las Vegas.
“Hunter can really pressure the ball, too,” Few said. “I think we can continue to grow that, where we can maybe stick him on those high-level scorers that are coming down the pipe.
“We’re asking him to rebound, especially offensive rebounds. He’s finding his baskets the way he needs to find them, cutting and slashing. He’s actually shot the ball really well in practice and hopefully that manifests itself in some of these games.”