Dusty Stromer knows how to make a favorable first impression.
He was a skinny 6-foot-3 freshman when Notre Dame (California) High basketball coach Matt Sargeant met Stromer, a rising senior who recently became the first commitment in Gonzaga’s 2023 recruiting class.
“He had blond hair down to his midback,” Sargeant said. “He was tall for a freshman, long arms. We did a workout together and it was just very clear his feel offensively was pretty special. High-level hand-eye coordination. Just an overall feel for movements and pace and feel for basketball.”
Fast forward and Stromer, coming off an extended break from high school and AAU basketball due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and Notre Dame were competing in a Section 7 summer tournament in the Phoenix area against standout high school teams with throngs of college coaches in attendance.
“He ended up not playing in a live (official) game for about 16 months,” Sargeant said. “It was his second game (back) with reps. Gonzaga saw it and he blew up.
“We’re playing on the main courts in the (Arizona Cardinals) football stadium. We played the Colorado state champions and we’re leading something like 28-3 and he has three dunks, three steals and three 3s in the first 3½ minutes.”
Stromer blossomed into a prized recruit, and not just to the dozens of colleges that reached out to the talented wing over the past few years.
“He was recruited by any and every (prep) school you could imagine, including the Overtime Elite pro (pathway) league,” Sargeant said. “They all wanted him. I think we’ve built a pretty close relationship. Every college coach told him not to leave (Notre Dame), including (Gonzaga’s) Mark Few, and to be a student-athlete and enjoy it. He has a chance to establish his legacy here that will be eternal.”
The 6-6 Stromer said no to numerous powerhouse programs nationally in part because of Notre Dame’s rise. Sargeant has been the head coach for five years and last year’s team captured a co-Mission League title, the program’s first crown in 21 seasons.
The Knights were one of eight teams selected for the California Interscholastic Federation (CIF) open division playoffs. Notre Dame’s roster included Creighton-bound guard Ben Shtolzberg and Luke Rishwain, younger brother of San Francisco guard Julian Rishwain and a future San Diego State walk-on.
Stromer started as a freshman, led the team in made 3-pointers and ranked second in scoring as Notre Dame set a state record for made 3s. He sat out as a sophomore when there were mixed signals from the state on whether there would even be a season.
Instead, Stromer went to work with trainer Shea Frazee at an outdoor hoop.
“We weren’t even shooting in a gym, we were working out at a park in Northridge four days a week,” Frazee said. “We did as much skill work as we could, played a lot of one-on-one, two-on-two, three-on-three. We’d have some kids from Notre Dame, Corona, Centennial or other high schools in the area.”
Stromer made noticeable progress despite a lengthy layoff from official games. He showed off his all-around ability last season as a junior while earning Mission League MVP honors. Always an accomplished perimeter shooter, Stromer has become more of a versatile scoring threat and an improving defender.
“He didn’t hone in on that (defense) until he came back for his junior year,” Sargeant said. “He’s an elite defender, a very tough kid. His freshman year he couldn’t really put the ball on the floor at a high level. Last season, he was able to get his own shots a lot better, we could post him up and he was able to get to the rim better.
“From an athletic standpoint, he could dunk as a freshman. Now he’s dunking every game, catching lobs. He’s good for one chase-down block off the backboard every game.”
Frazee watches many of Stromer’s games in person or on Synergy and offers feedback via notes or film review.
“His most transferable skills are his shooting and he can do that in a lot of ways,” Frazee said. “He’ll get fouled a lot on jump shots because he jumps high. His other skill and it might be the most transferable is his overall defense, guarding the ball at multiple positions. He does a really good job across the board, way better than people give him credit for.”
Stromer is in the middle of the AAU season and his senior season at Notre Dame awaits, giving him time to refine his skills and add to his 185-pound frame before joining the Zags.
“His strengths are his IQ, shooting and defense,” Sargeant said. “He’s just got to get a little bit stronger. The guy he’s compared to a lot, what the coaches talked about is Corey Kispert. Corey was 215 pounds (as a freshman). From the start of Dusty’s career here, he’s grown 2½-3 inches and put on 15-20 pounds. He has the frame it put it on.”
Stromer rates highly in leadership and work ethic. He’s always asking Sargeant when the gym is open to get in extra work.
“We had tryouts (recently) and clearly he doesn’t need to try out, but Dusty is out there trying out just like everyone else, another example of his leadership,” Sargeant said. “I have to pull him out (because) I have to see who else can do some stuff.
“His ability to play hard every time he’s on the floor is a testament to his leadership. I don’t have to worry about if he’ll give full effort in practice or games.”
Stromer, who visited Gonzaga in February, eventually trimmed his finalists to Gonzaga, Houston, Arizona and UCLA. He was reportedly down to Gonzaga and UCLA, the latter considered his dream school and the favorite for much of his recruitment, according to 247sports.
“UCLA was his dream school, but he told me people have been telling him he’s a Zag player,” Sargeant said. “I wasn’t surprised. It was pretty split on both of them. Once we had one last conversation before he committed, it seemed pretty clear he’d set priorities to make Gonzaga the better choice.”