Julian Strawther went to sleep Tuesday night still unsure of where he’d be playing basketball this fall.
At 7 a.m. Wednesday, the Gonzaga wing was jolted awake by a phone call from his agent. Strawther had multiple conversations with those in his inner circle, got the clarity he needed around 7:30 and went public four hours later, waiting to reveal his announcement until he polished off a mango pineapple smoothie.
“Spokane let’s run it back,” Strawther posted on his Twitter and Instagram accounts.
On the heels of what he’d later call “definitely the hardest decision I ever had to make,” Strawther joined Rasir Bolton and became the second Gonzaga starter in as many days to announce his return to the Bulldogs in 2022-23. The decision bolsters coach Mark Few’s backcourt and giving the Zags another piece that could be crucial toward a deep NCAA Tournament run next season.
“I feel like boulders are off my shoulders, man,” Strawther told The Spokesman-Review Wednesday afternoon. “… As soon as that decision was made this morning, just immediate relief.
“It really happened this morning at 7:30 and yeah, took as much time as I needed.”
College players had until 8:59 p.m. Wednesday to withdraw their names from the NBA draft. Strawther was transparent with his process, reaffirming to Gonzaga fans Tuesday night on social media he was still undecided despite various reports indicating he’d already made a decision.
“Everyone that ‘knows’ my decision, please tell me because I have no clue,” Strawther tweeted just shy of 9 p.m. “Y’all crack me up man.”
Strawther elaborated on his decision to return after going through the NBA draft process, which included a stop at the draft combine in Chicago and workouts with the Milwaukee Bucks and Brooklyn Nets. Strawther impressed in various individual drills at the combine but was held out of scrimmages after a quad strain.
“It was such a tough decision because obviously, my dream has always been to play in the NBA and to be that close and actually be able to get drafted and having that in front of your face,” Strawther said. “Then also having the option to go back to the No. 1 team in the country and continue to develop and possibly raise your draft stock for the next year. That just made the decision so hard because it was right there, all I had to do was say yes to it.”
A 31-game starter in 2021-22, Strawther has an opportunity to break out for Gonzaga as a junior after averaging 11.8 points and 5.4 rebounds while starting in all but one game last season. The talented wing scored a season-high 20 points twice, hitting that total against fifth-ranked Duke in his hometown of Vegas, and again versus BYU at McCarthey Athletic Center. He had 10 rebounds in the Duke game before grabbing a season-high 12 boards against Tarleton State.
“I felt like the best decision was to come back and go at it one more time with my brothers while also improving as a player, getting stronger mentally and physically,” Strawther said. “Continuing to grow and showing more to my game. I feel like to be able to go back and improve the draft stock and go at it with my brothers, that’s a win-win situation and honestly, there’s no reason to say no to it.”
The final makeup of Gonzaga’s 2022-23 roster will hinge on other key decisions, but with Bolton and Strawther back in the fold, the Bulldogs have a chance to return one of the top perimeter-shooting backcourts in the West Coast Conference, if not the country. Bolton led GU in made 3-pointers with 64 last season while connecting on 46% from beyond the arc while Strawther ranked second with 54, making 36%.
Strawther spoke to Few multiple times this week leading up to his decision and phoned Few and assistant Brian Michaelson Wednesday upon making his decision.
“I had just mentioned, I think since I got recruited by Gonzaga – I started getting recruited in like the eighth grade – I think coach Few has only called me about three times,” Strawther said. “… But he called me twice in the past week and one of those times was earlier today. He called me and said how happy he was and how ready he was to put me in a new role and how I could grow as a player and a leader. Be a leader on this team and take things by force.”
A former four-star recruit out of Vegas’ Liberty High School, Strawther reached double figures 21 times last season en route to being named All-WCC honorable mention. He came up with a clutch shooting performance in the WCC Tournament championship game, making 5 of 6 shots from the field and 3 of 3 from behind the 3-point line to score 16 points in an 82-69 win over No. 17 Saint Mary’s.
Strawther described his role last season as a “catch-and-shoot, off-ball scorer that got offensive rebounds,” but he expects to undertake more offensive and defensive responsibilities in 2022-23.
“I bought into that role and I feel like I did that at a high level,” he said. “They just want to see me be able to playmake a little more, make ball screen reads, create shots for myself and defensively, just play a little harder on defense, keep guys in front and those type of things.”
NBA teams encouraged Strawther to keep working on his body and improve his strength.
“That’s something I can definitely control myself and I’ll be going into the summer, preseason, looking to put a little more weight on, get a little bit stronger,” he said.
Despite losing starting point guard Andrew Nembhard, GU projects to be deep and talented in the backcourt next season, returning starters Strawther and Bolton, two rotational pieces from 2021-22 in Nolan Hickman and Hunter Sallis, and another potential impact player in Dominick Harris, who spent last season rehabilitating from a foot injury.
“It’s a really fun and exciting team. I feel like it’ll be even more fast-paced than we’ve had, which is saying something considering we’re always top two, top one in the country in pace of play and fast-break offense and things like that,” Strawther said. “I feel like even more in recent years we’ll be up and down the court and defensively on the perimeter, I feel like we have a lot of length and a lot of quickness and a lot of dudes that are really hungry on that end of the floor and really want to sit down and get stops.
“I feel like it’ll be a really entertaining brand of ball and I feel like we’re all so hungry and ready to go.”
Gonzaga is also considered to be the favorite to land Chattanooga transfer Malachi Smith, a 6-foot-4 guard who averaged 19.9 points, 6.7 rebounds and 3.0 assists last season. Recruiting analysts from On3 Recruiting and 247Sports.com have both given Gonzaga a “crystal ball” for Smith, indicating the Bulldogs could soon land a commitment from the coveted transfer guard .
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