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Gonzaga Basketball

Gonzaga’s family atmosphere key factor in Graham Ike’s decision to join Bulldogs

New Gonzaga forward Graham Ike looks to pass while with Wyoming during the Diamond Head Classic on Dec. 22, 2021, in Honolulu.  (Getty Images)

Graham Ike’s phone lit up maybe 30 seconds after putting his name in the transfer portal. Calls kept coming day after day, at all hours.

Talented players attract widespread interest in the portal, college basketball’s version of free agency, and Gonzaga contacted Ike early in the process.

The Wyoming transfer eventually trimmed his list to Indiana, Providence, Xavier, Georgetown and Gonzaga. The Zags moved to the top shortly into Ike’s recent campus visit.

“What it really was when I touched the campus and saw the family environment, it was great,” said Ike, pronounced E-kay. “There was big love there. It was amazing to see all the players that come back, the (former) players on staff and they’re all treated like family.

“Coach (Mark) Few, being the legend he is, I thought this is an opportunity and a place I could grow and learn more about the game and learn from one of the greats, and also play around some great guys. That team, there’s some really amazing players and beside that they’re really amazing people.”

Ike didn’t play on his visit, settling for games of “pig,” the shorter version of “horse.” He’s still on the mend from a stress reaction in his right foot that sidelined him last season.

The 6-foot-9, 242-pound forward believes he’s fully recovered, but he’s intentionally proceeding with caution. He navigated the decision not to have surgery – taking into account similar injuries to Michael Jordan and Joel Embiid – and the rehabilitation process with assistance from former longtime Denver Nuggets director of performance Steve Hess. He’s known Hess for nearly 15 years and refers to him as a trainer/mentor.

Ike has no pain in his foot and he’s doing some on-court workouts. He anticipates being full speed when he participates in summer workouts.

“Without a doubt,” he said.

Ike put up big numbers – 19.5 points, 9.6 rebounds, 51% from the field – as a sophomore in 2021-22 when the Cowboys finished 25-9 after losing to Indiana in the First Four of the NCAA Tournament. He was voted Mountain West Conference preseason player of the year leading into last season before suffering his foot injury in November.

Ike is a force on the low block, but also initiated moves from the perimeter as a capable ballhandler. He even assisted in press-break situations. Wyoming typically used isolation plays or stationed Ike on the low block and let him go to work.

He averaged roughly 14 post possessions per game as a sophomore and drew seven fouls, both at or near the top nationally. He’ll be involved in ball screens, pick-and-rolls and dribble handoffs within Gonzaga’s offense.

“I’d definitely like to play in more ball screens, which I know I’ll be doing at Gonzaga,” the Aurora, Colorado, native said. “Especially with great point guards like Ryan (Nembhard) and Nolan (Hickman), that ought to be fun.”

Ike and Creighton transfer Nembhard didn’t know each other and obviously weren’t a package deal, but they visited GU’s campus together. They ended up committing to the Zags roughly an hour apart Friday morning.

“We had just talked about keeping each other posted on the situation and we got each other’s information,” Ike said. “I think I might have committed before Ryan, but I’m not sure.”

Ike averaged 31.6 minutes per game and played all 40 minutes twice as a sophomore. He had 33 points, 10 rebounds and 15 free throw attempts in a home win over Boise State. He finished with 25 points and 11 rebounds against Stanford and 17 points, four rebounds and three assists vs. Arizona.

Ike had 17 points and nine boards against Indiana in what turned out to be his final game in a Wyoming uniform.

“I want to credit the players I played with and the coaches I had,” Ike said of logging extended minutes. “The way we practiced, we played all the time and did a lot with the strength coach there.”

Ike spent some time on his visit chatting with Drew Timme, who exits Gonzaga’s program as a three-time All-American with a 19.6 scoring average over his final three seasons.

“He was working out and I watched him,” Ike said. “First of all, great dude, very selfless. It was pretty nice seeing his touch and routine, how serious he takes the game and how he also has fun with it.”

Two of Ike’s relatives were professional football players. His late grandfather, Tom Graham, was a linebacker at Oregon and still holds the school’s single-season and career tackles records. An uncle, Daniel Graham, played at Colorado. Both had lengthy NFL careers.

“My grandpa and I used to go fishing,” Ike said. “I love walks and being in nature. We got to go to coach Few’s house (on his visit) and saw all the trees and the sunset was so beautiful.”

Ike anticipates coming to Spokane this summer to begin learning his new teammates and GU’s system.

“I’m elated to be a Gonzaga Bulldog,” he said. “It’s so tough to describe because of the culture and brotherhood I’m entering and the kind of success they’ve had. I understand that it’s a great task, but I’m sure coach Few and the staff will guide me in the right direction.”