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Gonzaga Basketball

‘A dog at heart.’ Why Efton Reid’s former LSU teammates think big things are in store for Gonzaga’s new center

Former LSU post Efton Reid shoots against Alabama’s Charles Bediako during the second half March 5 in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.  (Getty Images)

LAS VEGAS – Shareef O’Neal has no shortage of basketball stories involving Efton Reid, but there’s one that might take the cake.

It came during 5-on-5 work at LSU practice last year. The 6-foot-11, 238-pound freshman center scooped up a defensive rebound, dribbled the length of the floor, faked a handoff, slid the ball between his legs and threw down a dunk.

“This year I know he’s going to go crazy,” O’Neal said of his former college teammate and close friend who transferred to Gonzaga this off-season. “He’s going to show the inside game, the post moves and he’s also going to be able to knock down (perimeter shots).

“I hope we see him bring it coast to coast, I’ve seen him do it in practice and I know he can do it.”

O’Neal is qualified to speak about Reid’s credentials on the court – the frontcourt mates traded their share of body blows at LSU practices last season – but he and Gonzaga’s new center got to know each other on a deeper level, living under the same roof during their lone year together in Baton Rouge.

Which means O’Neal must have cultivated some good roommate stories that could rival the ones he had on the court, right? Yes, but not the kind you’d expect.

Reid, who was 19 years old when he arrived at LSU, shared a living space with two older teammates: O’Neal, a 21-year-old junior, and Tari Eason, a 20-year-old freshman.

“Efton actually would wake us up in the morning. We had early workouts,” O’Neal said. “Efton was like the big brother of the house. Always carried things straight.”

Understandably, O’Neal is selective when it comes to media requests – interview questions tend to revolve around his Hall of Fame father – but after emerging from the Lakers’ locker room following a July 12 NBA Summer League game against the Clippers, a media relations official notified the 6-8 forward a reporter was hoping to ask about a former LSU teammate. When O’Neal learned Reid was the subject, he agreed to chat.

“Efton’s one of the coolest people I’ve ever met,” O’Neal said.

Reid became Gonzaga’s latest transfer big man when he committed to Mark Few’s program on May 1, supplementing a frontcourt group that brings back two established players in Drew Timme and Anton Watson, but also one that loses second overall draft pick Chet Holmgren, one of the country’s most effective rim protectors last season.

While Reid forms chemistry with new teammates in Spokane, gains the trust of Few’s coaching staff and learns the Bulldogs’ schemes, former LSU teammates continue to vouch for someone they say has endless potential on the court and an outsized personality away from it.

“I loved that move to Gonzaga he made,” O’Neal said. “I feel like he’s going to thrive. That program is going to use him really well, and he’s really versatile. He’s an awesome player.”

Now playing with the G-League Ignite, O’Neal was one of three former LSU players participating in summer league, along with Eason, a first-round NBA draft pick of the Houston Rockets, and forward Darius Days, who played for the Spurs in Vegas before signing a two-way contract with the Miami Heat.

Reid’s move to Gonzaga was celebrated by LSU teammates, who still keep in touch through a group text message chat. Reid, O’Neal, Eason and Days were among the 13 Tigers who either entered the transfer portal or declared for the draft following the 2021-22 season.

“I think that probably is one of the most perfect moves I’ve seen in the portal, other than mine maybe,” said Eason, a Seattle native who transferred from Cincinnati to LSU between his freshman and sophomore seasons. “I’m super, super happy for bro, I think that’s a great fit. I think he’s going to fit in well with Spokane, the environment, just the people and the way he plays. He’s a really unselfish guy, he’s a team player, but he’s also a dog at heart. So I think the Zag fans are going to love him.”

“I feel personally that was one of the best moves he could do. Playing with Drew, they like to throw the ball into the bigs,” said Days, who teamed with Timme at the NBA draft combine. “He can show his whole arsenal, so I’m happy he made that decision to go to Gonzaga.”

It remains unclear how Reid will fit into Gonzaga’s rotation this fall. Timme will start at one of the frontcourt positions and many have speculated Few could return to a smaller, guard-oriented lineup while boasting one of the deeper backcourts in the country – a move that could keep Watson and Reid on the bench.

Days offered thoughts on what Reid will have to do to stay on the court in Spokane but also provided evidence to support his belief the center will find more success in a new environment.

“Stay out of foul trouble. He had a little foul trouble playing at LSU,” Days said. “You know how he can step out and shoot the 3. He’s going to be able to space the floor at Gonzaga. I’m really excited for him.”

O’Neal, Days and Eason all suspect Reid will take a big step on the defensive end at Gonzaga.

Though it’s unrealistic to think he or any member of the 2022-23 Zags will replace Holmgren’s impact as a shot-blocker, GU’s schemes could give Reid more opportunities to patrol the paint on defense.

LSU’s switching defense often pulled Reid out of the paint, forcing him to guard smaller guards and wings on the perimeter.

“We were switching one through five at LSU, so it was kind of hard for him to get blocked shots,” O’Neal said. “I feel like if he was down there, he would’ve got a lot more, but I don’t know how Gonzaga’s going to do their defense, but if they have him around the rim he can get a lot of blocks. That will have his draft stock really high and he’ll be right in here next year.”

Whether it comes in crucial, crunch-time minutes on the court or in another capacity, it seems certain Reid will make some type of impact on one of the country’s top basketball programs this season.

“I have a fond memory of when a teammate wasn’t really going hard and he said he was sweating,” Eason said. “(Reid) didn’t take that as an excuse, like, ‘We’re all sweating.’ He got him. You see it in practice and we’d hit adversity in games and all sorts of things. Efton would be one of the main guys in the huddle trying to get us together and kind of gather us as a team.”