Sophomore guard Dominick Harris, cellphone video rolling during a break in Gonzaga’s picture day, tossed a basketball over his head inside the McCarthey Athletic Center.
Kaden Perry snatched the ball out of midair and slammed home a two-handed dunk.
“We connectin already,” Harris wrote in an Instagram post.
That wouldn’t have been possible several months ago when Perry arrived on campus, still healing from a couple of herniated discs in his back that cut short his senior season at Battle Ground (Washington) High in early May.
The 6-foot-9 freshman forward could barely walk when he was initially injured, but he’s made steady progress over the summer. He’s been able to take part in some conditioning and drills.
“He’s been limited, but we think he’s going to be able to do everything now,” assistant coach Brian Michaelson said. “Obviously, he’s a little rusty, but he’s great healthwise.”
Perry was considered a candidate to redshirt if his back injury required a protracted recovery. A healthy Perry could find playing time in a crowded frontcourt that includes player of the year candidate Drew Timme, top-rated 2021 recruit Chet Holmgren, Anton Watson and Ben Gregg.
“He’s a big-time athlete,” Michaelson said. “He brings elite athleticism and a high motor. Those two things are at the top of the scale. He’s significantly different than the rest of the roster.”
Perry’s athleticism has drawn comparisons to former Zag and current Memphis Grizzlies forward Brandon Clarke, a major contributor on Gonzaga’s 2019 squad that reached the Elite Eight. Perry is taller and heavier, at 225 pounds, than Clarke, who is listed at 6-8 and 215.
“He’s the closest we’ve had to (Clarke),” Michaelson said. “He’s bigger than Elias (Harris). He’s probably most similar to Casey (Calvary).”
The bouncy, hard-nosed Calvary helped Gonzaga’s 1999 team advance to the Elite Eight. He averaged 19 points, 6.7 rebounds and 1.5 blocks as a senior in 2001.
Gonzaga’s staff is limited to four hours per week of court time with players. The first official practice is in late September. GU will have 30 practices before facing Dixie State in the season opener on Nov. 9.
Gregg takes advantage of head start
Gregg was originally a member of Gonzaga’s highly rated 2021 recruiting class with Perry, Holmgren, Nolan Hickman and Hunter Sallis. Gregg opted to graduate from high school early and, with Oregon delaying the prep season until May in response to COVID-19, joined the Zags in mid-December.
It was a free season of sorts with the NCAA granting winter sports athletes an extra year of eligibility. Despite the late start, the 6-10 Gregg played 56 minutes in 18 games. He hit a pair of 3-pointers, scored 17 points and grabbed 18 rebounds.
The benefit of limited playing time and practicing daily against teammates on a top-ranked team gave Gregg a head start on the upcoming season.
“There’s an understanding to what we’re doing, playing in games, practices, skill work and the weight room,” Michaelson said. “He knows how we have to work because he was here.
“He’s a little taller, his skill set continues to improve. He’s not as far along as the true returners (that were on hand for the full season), but he’s farther along than the freshmen. That semester was really helpful.”
Gregg wasn’t earmarked for major minutes, but he did climb up the pecking order and earned playing time as last season progressed. He fit in seamlessly with teammates on and off the court.
“It was a tough situation, but I’m proud of him and how he handled everything,” Michaelson said. “Oregon wasn’t going to have a real high school season. It didn’t cost him any college eligibility and he was a mature enough kid to make the move.
“He’s the baby boy in his family and he was raised around athletics (dad Matt coaches women’s basketball at Warner Pacific), so he knew how to relate to older guys.”
Few’s son among six GU walk-ons
The Zags had five walk-ons last season, one of the biggest and best groups at a program with a rich history of accomplishments by walk-ons on the court and coaching post-career.
All five returned, and they’re joined by a familiar name, Joe Few, son of head coach Mark Few. Joe, a Gonzaga Prep product, wore No. 53 at the team’s picture day.
The walk-ons are led by guard Matthew Lang, who scored three points in 12 minutes last season, and guard Will Graves, son of former Gonzaga women’s coach Kelly Graves. Graves had two points and four rebounds in 20 minutes.
Colby Brooks, Abe Eagle and Evan Inglesby didn’t appear in any games last season.
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