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Sports >  Gonzaga basketball

‘Sky’s the limit.’ Chet Holmgren, Andrew Nembhard, Jalen Suggs insist Gonzaga bound for ‘great things’ in 2022-23

Oct. 24, 2022 Updated Mon., Oct. 24, 2022 at 8:11 p.m.

Gonzaga Bulldogs center Chet Holmgren (34) guard Julian Strawther (0) guard Andrew Nembhard (3) and forward Drew Timme (2) react as time runs out and they defeat the Pepperdine Waves during the second half of a college basketball game on Wednesday, Feb 16, 2022, at Firestone Fieldhouse in Malibu, Calif. Gonzaga won the game 86-66.  (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)
Gonzaga Bulldogs center Chet Holmgren (34) guard Julian Strawther (0) guard Andrew Nembhard (3) and forward Drew Timme (2) react as time runs out and they defeat the Pepperdine Waves during the second half of a college basketball game on Wednesday, Feb 16, 2022, at Firestone Fieldhouse in Malibu, Calif. Gonzaga won the game 86-66. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)

Andrew Nembhard wasn’t pressed about any individual player, let alone asked to complete a full rundown of Gonzaga’s roster, but by the time he finished a minutelong scouting report on the 2022-23 Bulldogs this summer, the normally short-winded point guard had given the names of seven different players expected to contribute this fall.

It’s difficult to zero in on just one Zag – an issue most of Gonzaga’s opponents will face the next five to six months.

Nembhard’s response during an interview at an Indiana Pacers Summer League practice in Las Vegas served as another endorsement for the top-end talent and unmatched depth No. 2 Gonzaga expects to bring to the court this season.

“I see it as a very exciting team and a different team than they’ve kind of had in the past,” Nembhard said. “A lot of guys that can score the ball.”

Like usual, Gonzaga enters another college basketball season with lofty expectations and another loaded roster that should make it easier to stomach the loss of two players – Nembhard and Chet Holmgren – who were considered among the best in the country at their respective positions.

It doesn’t mean the Bulldogs won’t miss Holmgren’s 7-foot-6 wingspan and shot-blocking instincts, or Nembhard’s ball-handling and distribution. But Gonzaga’s ability to reload while other programs rebuild is one of the reasons the Bulldogs have a chance to make their eighth consecutive Sweet 16 appearance.

“Coach Few does a great job putting the puzzle together every single year and they have great talent on the roster,” Holmgren, the No. 2 overall NBA draft pick, said after an Oklahoma City practice at Summer League. “So it should make Fewie’s job a little easier.”

Nembhard’s first name drop went to junior wing Julian Strawther, who contemplated moving on to the NBA before pulling his name out of the draft days before the deadline. Strawther’s name is already surfacing on 2023 NBA mock draft boards, and Nembhard thinks the Las Vegas native could be poised for a breakout season as he’s asked to take on more offensive responsibilities.

“I think Julian Strawther’s a guy that will take a big jump,” Nembhard said. “He can do a lot more than he maybe showed last year, but we had a lot of guys making plays.”

In two seasons at Gonzaga, Nembhard delivered 324 assists – many of those passes finding their way into the hands of low-post stalwart Drew Timme, who returns to the Bulldogs for his fourth year with 1,521 career points under his belt.

Nembhard’s not the only one predicting another standout campaign from Timme, a preseason candidate for national player of the year honors, but he’s also bullish on the All-American’s frontcourt running mate, Anton Watson, who’s been a valuable asset to the Zags – especially on the defensive end – the last three seasons.

“I think Drew Timme’s a guy, he’s going to keep showing more and more, which is crazy to say,” Nembhard said. “He’s already done so much. I’m excited to see him, I’m excited to see Anton Watson. People continue to underrate that guy and he’s an elite part of our success the last few years and No. 1 team overall going into the tournament .”

Nembhard mentioned four other former teammates who will be in a position to see the floor in varying capacities.

“I’m very excited to see the young guards, too, Hunter (Sallis) and Nolan (Hickman),” Nembhard said. “See what they do this year. Rasir (Bolton) obviously too, super steady. Ben Gregg, that’s who I want to see. That’s who I really want to see, man.”

Members of the current team aside, Nembhard may be more qualified than anyone else to speak about the talent, development and ceilings of Sallis and Hickman, 19-year-old guards who combined to play over 30 minutes per game in 2021-22 primarily backing up Nembhard and Bolton. Barring unforeseen circumstances, it’s unlikely both players will find their way into the starting unit this season, but at least one should and it’s easy to envision both averaging at least 20-25 mpg in GU’s backcourt.

“Man, sky’s the limit for those guys. McDonald’s All-American guys, super skilled,” Nembhard said. “Nolan kind of can do a lot, scoring and passing the ball, super crafty, all the skills, all the drills. Hunter’s a guy who’s just super humble, gets in the gym. I heard he’s had a great summer, so I’m really excited to see him. He’s so athletic and can guard. He’s a guy who I think people will be really surprised with how good he’ll be.”

A third NBA Zag, Jalen Suggs, echoed the opinions shared by Nembhard and Holmgren when asked to weigh in on the 2022-23 Bulldogs. Five of Suggs’ college teammates are still on GU’s roster, and the second-year Orlando Magic guard has spent time vacationing with Strawther during the offseason.

“Sky’s the limit again. I think you say it every year. They have the talent, they have the hard workers, they have experience,” Suggs said. “Now it’s just taking it in and applying everything. Continuing to work and get better each game, each month. Work your way to March and then at that point, it’s just go take it. But I think they’re going to be great this year.”

Due to an injury, Suggs was able to get back to Spokane to watch the Zags twice last season. Before experiencing his own setback at the Crawsover Pro-Am in Seattle, Holmgren, who’s expected to be out for the entire NBA season with a Lisfranc injury, also made a pledge to see his college teammates play in person if the schedule allowed it.

“They’re going to do great things next year,” Holmgren said. “I’ll definitely be tuning in to watch as many games as I can, hopefully make it back for a game. … It’ll be great to watch them.”

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