ESPN’s Seth Greenberg was fast asleep Wednesday night on the East Coast when Drew Timme confirmed he’s returning to Gonzaga with a concise “I’m back” tweet.
“Mark Few is the one that had to stay up,” Greenberg cracked during a phone interview Thursday morning. “Basically, I don’t have to talk about the guy until November. Fewy’s the one getting paid to worry about that stuff.”
Greenberg, who gets paid for analysis of all things college basketball on GameDay and various ESPN platforms, offered plenty of interesting opinions – pre-November! – on the return of Timme, Julian Strawther and Rasir Bolton, next season’s Zags, the national landscape and conference affiliation scuttlebutt.
Greenberg wasn’t surprised by Timme’s decision to come back after consecutive All-American seasons. Greenberg supported his point with an expression used by Few in the past when media floated his name for other coaching jobs.
“There’s positives and negatives to NIL (name, image and likeness), and that’s one of the positives,” Greenberg said. “First of all, he’ll make more money staying (at Gonzaga). And then his legacy, think about the career this kid has had. It’s phenomenal. When former players come back and talk, they’ll always tell the current ones they were happiest when they were in college. There’s something to be said for that.
“And he’s going to do really well with NIL. He’s going to be at Gonzaga and he loves it there and he loves his teammates. It’s like, ‘Why would Mark take an NBA job or the UCLA job, why mess with happy?’ Will his draft stock change a year from now? I don’t know, it’s going to be what it’s going to be, but he’s in a great situation.”
Several potential question marks just a week ago – experience, depth, perimeter shooting, playmakers and scoring sources – appeared to turn into strengths with Timme, Strawther and Bolton opting to return and Chattanooga transfer Malachi Smith committing to Gonzaga.
GU’s backcourt options now include 2022 starters and double-figures scorers Bolton and Strawther; point guard Nolan Hickman and 6-foot-5 Hunter Sallis, both 2021 five-star recruits, according to ESPN; Dominick Harris, No. 59 in the 2020 class, three spots above Strawther; and last season’s Southern Conference Player of the Year Smith, a versatile scorer who made nearly 40% of his 3-point attempts in two seasons at Chattanooga.
“That was huge (Strawther and Bolton returning) because they needed shotmaking guys,” said Greenberg, who spoke to The Spokesman-Review before Smith’s commitment Thursday afternoon. “Sallis and Hickman are going to be good players but haven’t proven they can be shotmakers. Bolton is huge and his ability to stretch the defense opens up lanes for others.”
Strawther was considered a second-round pick in several mock drafts, roughly where Corey Kispert, his predecessor as GU’s starting wing, was projected following his junior season. Kispert returned, improved his offense and defense, and was eventually drafted 15th overall by Washington.
The 6-7 Strawther could be on a similar path if he shows similar improvement in his junior season. He was one of Gonzaga’s most reliable 3-point shooters (39.6%) before going 1 of 14 in three NCAA Tournament games to finish at 36.5%.
“The end of the season I thought he put too much pressure on himself,” Greenberg said. “It almost seemed like he was trying too hard. Everything they do at Gonzaga is offensive flow and read and react and within what they’re doing. The extra year is going to be huge for him and his career because I think he’s an NBA player. He made a wise decision. His role is going to change and he will embrace that.”
Timme has been one of the nation’s most efficient paint scorers over the past two seasons. Nothing figures to change in that area, but the 6-10 Timme showed off his 3-point stroke at the NBA draft combine, hitting 4 of 5 in one scrimmage.
The Zags also added LSU transfer center Efton Reid, No. 20 in ESPN’s 2021 ratings.
“He’s slight (6-11, 235 pounds), but (Reid) can run and block shots, active on the glass,” said Greenberg, who coached at Long Beach State, South Florida and Virginia Tech before joining ESPN a decade ago. “He’s a kid that probably has a couple too many tools in the tool box. That’s another thing Mark does a good job with. He has to figure out who he is and his strengths.
“I used to say this to my guys: ‘Make sure you show people what you can do and not what you can’t do.’ He’s long and active, a pretty good passer and he can impact the game defensively. I think he could play with Timme.”
The frontcourt also includes versatile senior forward Anton Watson.
“Nobody talks about him,” Greenberg said, “but I love his game.”
Gonzaga joins numerous programs that will enter the season with championship aspirations, including North Carolina, Kentucky, Houston, UCLA, Duke, 2022 champ Kansas, 2021 champ Baylor, Creighton, Arkansas and Villanova. That list could easily be extended with five or 10 more schools.
“I like (Gonzaga’s) roster,” Greenberg said. “They’ve got legitimate depth in the frontcourt. The big thing is shotmaking and point guard play. There’s a lot of responsibility when the ball is in your hands at Gonzaga. I think (Hickman) is a good player. By the end of the season, I think he’ll be a really good player.”
Conference realignment remains a hot topic nationally with Gonzaga regularly surfacing as a potential candidate to make a move. The Zags turned down overtures from the Mountain West several years ago to stay put in the West Coast Conference.
There was social media speculation a few months ago about Gonzaga and the Big East, but nothing appears to be imminent on that front. Greenberg suggested that union could happen down the road, particularly if the Big East creates a division with West/Midwest schools.
“I’ve always said Big East,” Greenberg said. “You find schools that have a similar commonality and expand it. Eventually, there’s going to be a breakoff of the Power Fives and the sixth Power Five is going to be all the private Jesuit, Catholic schools coming together to create their own super conference.”
Any other possible options for the Zags?
“I’m really impressed with the new commissioner (George Kliavkoff) of the Pac-12,” Greenberg said. “I wouldn’t be shocked at some point if they figure out a way. It wouldn’t totally shock me. Why couldn’t Gonzaga be the Notre Dame of the Pac-12?
“Maybe I’ve been out of coaching too long. I’m thinking outside the box, but with the culture today, don’t you have to think outside the box if you’re an athletic director or a conference commissioner?”
Think about the career this kid
has had. It’s phenomenal.” Seth Greenberg ESPN analyst on Gonzaga’s Drew Timme
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