Sports >  Gonzaga basketball

‘There’s nothing like it in college basketball’: Coveted Californian recruits Jared McCain, Dusty Stromer floored by Gonzaga visit

UPDATED: Mon., Feb. 14, 2022

Two prospective Zag recruits, Jared McCain, center left, (in Yankees sweatshirt) and Dusty Stromer, right, watch the Zags beat St. Mary's Saturday, Feb. 12, 2022 in the McCarthey Athletic Center at Gonzaga in Spokane, Washington. (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)

It was a banner day for former Zags, a pivotal one for current Zags and at some point down the road, Saturday could pan out to be a monumental one for future Zags.

On a day that saw five former Gonzaga players reach double figures in the NBA – with Corey Kispert and Jalen Suggs respectively posting season highs for points and assists – the 2021-22 Bulldogs stretched their winning streak to 14 games, beating No. 22 Saint Mary’s 74-58 in front of a sellout crowd at McCarthey Athletic Center.

A pair of coveted high school players from Southern California saw the second event unfold in person and likely heard about the first from coaches who’ve used the school’s robust pipeline to the NBA as a key selling point when luring top-end recruits to Gonzaga.

Two days after Suggs swung through Spokane, five-star Jared McCain and four-star Dusty Stromer – AAU teammates in SoCal who planned a joint trip to Gonzaga months ago – arrived to a Kennel reception that in many ways mirrored the one the Orlando Magic rookie got 48 hours earlier.

Accompanied by their parents, McCain and Stromer watched the first half from front-row seats behind the baseline, but both recruits pulled the same move Suggs did a few days earlier, blending into the Kennel Club for a different vantage point in the second half.

“It’s unreal, there’s nothing like it in college basketball,” Stromer said. “I’ve gone on a lot of visits and this is the craziest environment I’ve seen just as far as such a good fan base, and the student section is crazy.”

Recruiting website considers McCain (No. 2) and Stromer (No. 5) two of the top five prospects in the state of California. McCain, a composite five-star recruit who plays at Centennial High (Corona, Calif.), is the nation’s second-rated shooting guard. Stromer, a composite four-star who plays for Notre Dame High (Sherman Oaks, Calif.), is the country’s fifth-rated shooting guard.

The Kennel Club seemed to be conscious of those facts before Saturday’s game, chanting “We want Jared, we want Jared!” before changing its tune to, “We want Dusty, we want Dusty!”

Midway through a halftime interview, McCain was approached by two selfie-seeking GU fans who told the nation’s 23rd-rated recruit, “This is the place to be.”

“This atmosphere is crazy, man,” McCain said. “The student section, just the way they play, it’s amazing.

“I didn’t know the student section was this hype. I love playing in atmospheres like that. It makes your game feel more fun.”

McCain and Stromer each carry more than a dozen big-time offers, and the AAU teammates were offered by the Zags within 25 days of each other last October. One of GU’s nonconference opponents, Duke, hosted McCain on an official visit last weekend, and another one, UCLA, is aggressively recruiting both prospects.

Both prospects had effusive praise for the game-day atmosphere at Gonzaga – Stromer also took an unofficial visit when the Bulldogs hosted Texas – and suggested they’d fit seamlessly into Mark Few’s system, which emphasizes tempo, space and perimeter shooting.

“I can see the way their guards get up and down quick. (Andrew) Nembhard, he just gets the ball and goes and goes to the rack,” McCain said. “They swing it around, they’re able to take the shots. I don’t see them looking at the coach – if they miss a shot, they keep playing. So that’s what I love about it. The trust within the coaches.”

Stromer echoed those thoughts.

“The atmosphere is just unreal. It’s unlike anything I’ve ever seen and obviously the playing style they have and how fast they play,” he said. “They get up and down, and I really like that. I like to get up and down, I like to play fast, I like to shoot it a lot. I think just being able to get up and down with the guys and get a lot of shots up and make a lot of shots, it just fits my game.”

Last summer, McCain and Stromer joined forces to play for the Russell Westbrook-sponsored Team WhyNot on the EYBL AAU circuit. Competing at the 16s level, the two helped lead their squad to a championship at the prestigious Nike Peach Jam event in North Augusta, South Carolina.

McCain scored 25 points to go with six rebounds and five assists while Stromer had 13 points, five assists and three rebounds in Team WhyNot’s 82-73 victory over Drive Nation.

“Me and Jared are pretty close,” Stromer said. “… We sort of wanted to come (to Gonzaga) at the same time and check it out. … I love playing with Jared and I think being able to play with him in college would be pretty special.”

During the AAU circuit, McCain, a 6-foot-2, 175-pound sharpshooter, regularly connected with the 6-foot-6, 180-pound Stromer, especially when the bigger Stromer was cutting to the rim.

“Playing with him this summer, it was a blessing throwing lobs to him so I’d love to play with him in college,” McCain said.

Asked what makes Gonzaga appealing, McCain, who’s developed a close relationship with top assistant Brian Michaelson, pointed to the way the Bulldogs prioritize player development.

“Just kind of that different atmosphere and everything, the way they take care of their players,” he said. “Even if I don’t play first year or even if I play a little bit, they’re going to care about me and develop me. Player development is a huge thing for me, so (Michaelson) texts me before every game ‘good luck’ and how I did and it’s cool to have that relationship with him.”

A strong outside shooter and shot-blocker who rebounds well at his position, Stromer said it’s been encouraging to see a handful of former GU players with comparable skill sets thrive under Few before making a leap to the next level.

“Just looking at the guys who do make it here, a lot of them fit me, and a lot of them play pretty similar to the way I play,” he said. “… I really think I play a lot like Corey Kispert in a way. I think that’s a pretty good comparison.”

Spokane’s winters have turned away prospective players in the past – especially those that come from warmer climates like Southern California – but McCain indicated that wouldn’t be a deterrent if Gonzaga winds up being one of his finalists.

“I got good vibes when I landed,” McCain said. “Even though it’s cold, people say that are from California ‘I’m too cold,’ but I kind of like the cold.”

McCain’s final day in Spokane consisted of a campus tour and meetings with Gonzaga’s strength and conditioning staff. The SoCal native and Los Angeles Rams fan was planning to watch the Super Bowl at Few’s house before flying home Monday morning.

McCain doesn’t have a commitment date planned but indicated he’d release a list of five or six finalists after the high school season ends.

“Just kind of taking everything in as it comes,” he said.

Stromer doesn’t have concrete plans either, but intends to come out with a top-six list at some point in the near future.

“Then with the decision, I’m not sure,” he said. “I’m just trying to focus on getting better and being the best basketball player I can be right now. So I’m grateful and I’m blessed to have all these opportunities and come to all these schools, but I’m just going to try to be patient and take my time a little bit.”

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