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Gonzaga Basketball

Coveted transfer Ryan Nembhard went back and forth, ultimately decided ‘Gonzaga was best spot for me’

It took time and a whole lot of space for Ryan Nembhard to arrive at one of the most important decisions of his college basketball career.

After taking campus visits to Gonzaga and Arizona two weekends ago, Nembhard, known for his calculated, deliberate decision-making on the floor, relied on a similar approach to decide where he’d resume his career coming off two productive seasons as the starting point guard at Creighton.

Nembhard gave himself a few days and distanced himself from both places, returning home to Aurora, Ontario – roughly 2,300 miles from Spokane and 2,200 from Tucson – to mull the options and talk things over with family members.

“I think it was really just getting away from the visits and kind of breaking everything down away from the visits,” Nembhard said. “Kind of talking with my family a little bit. Looking at rosters, looking at everything the coaches said to me. Just kind of making my decision from there.”

The decision came down to two college basketball powers on the West Coast.

Mark Few or the man who sat on his bench for two decades, Tommy Lloyd?

A program that’s produced 12 NBA draft picks since 2012 – including older brother Andrew – or one that’s accounted for 15 draft picks during that same span?

The McCarthey Center or the McKale Center?

It weighed on Nembhard’s conscience for two weeks. Gonzaga or Arizona? Arizona or Gonzaga? The clubhouse leader seemingly changed on a daily basis.

“It was very back and forth,” Nembhard said. “One day it might have been one school, the other day another school. Yeah, definitely, they both had really good pitches and I liked both schools, but at the end of the day when I really broke it all down I felt like Gonzaga was the best spot for me.”

Nembhard received a text message from Few within an hour of entering the transfer portal on April 6 and called Gonzaga’s longtime coach last Thursday, roughly two weeks later, to let him know he’d be choosing the Bulldogs. He followed the path of his brother, a two-year starter at GU who averaged 27.7 minutes per game as a rookie with the NBA’s Indiana Pacers.

“It felt like from our conversations, I felt like (Few) was really going to trust me coming into this system and just putting the ball in my hands and allow me to play through mistakes and just play my style of basketball,” Nembhard said. “I think that was the most impactful thing for me, as well as just the track record they have with improving transfers. They have a great track record of making transfers, whatever, shoot the ball better or just play at a higher level.”

Nembhard excelled as a sophomore, averaging 12.1 points, 4.8 assists and 4.0 rebounds, guiding Creighton to the Elite Eight, where it lost to national runner-up San Diego State on a controversial foul call.

With Creighton poised to return many of its key players in 2023-24, potentially setting the Bluejays up to make another deep NCAA Tournament run next season, Nembhard’s decision to enter the transfer portal was one of the most surprising developments of the college basketball offseason.

Explaining the decision during a phone call with The Spokesman-Review on Tuesday, Nembhard said, “I just felt like I needed something different in terms of development and just certain things with trust from the coaching staff.”

In a 15-minute conversation the same five-letter word came up nine times, accentuating the importance of “trust” to the Creighton transfer when picking a new destination.

“My brother went through it at Gonzaga. We know what we’re going to get from coach Few and the rest of the coaching staff, and we just really trust those guys,” he said. “It’s a lot about trust for me and I’m big on trust. I know coach Few is going to give me the ball and put a lot of trust in me.”

Within days of Nembhard entering the portal, reports from national media outlets suggested the point guard was leaning toward Arizona. That, of course, was based on his relationship with Lloyd – who ran point on Andrew’s recruitment to Gonzaga from Florida in 2020 – but also the departure of Wildcats point guard Kerr Kriisa, who transferred to West Virginia, creating a vacancy in UA’s backcourt.

Despite Nembhard’s obvious connection to Gonzaga, things didn’t appear as cut-and-dried , with the Zags projected to return sophomore Nolan Hickman, who started 36 of 37 games and played the bulk of the point guard minutes in 2022-23.

Nembhard is familiar with Hickman’s game, playing against the Seattle native twice in high school when his Montverde (Florida) Academy team faced Hickman’s Wasatch (Utah) Academy. He believes they can coexist if placed in the same starting unit next season. It can’t hurt that his brother, Andrew, started alongside another point guard, Jalen Suggs, during Gonzaga’s run to the 2021 national championship game.

“I think for great teams in college, you kind of have two guards that can go,” Nembhard said. “For us to have the ability to both play on and off the ball, I think it will be good for us. Learn to play with each other and just play off each other. So I think that will be great for us and great for the team.”

At 6 feet and 170 pounds, Ryan stands approximately 3 inches shorter than Andrew. Similar to his brother, he can create in transition and half-court sets, averaging 4.6 assists compared to 2.6 turnovers during two seasons in the Big East.

Andrew was open to answer any questions Ryan had during the transfer process, having gone through it once himself, but he mostly gave his brother the space to make his decision. Andrew was in both Spokane and Tucson for his brother’s visits, but didn’t necessarily join him for meetings or tours.

“I obviously saw the great things he was able to do at Gonzaga, the amount of games he won and just how successful they were as a team those years,” Ryan said. “So that’s something I’m looking forward to doing, but also, … kind of putting my own spin on it and being myself, being a new version of myself and a better version of myself.

“Not really worried too much about the things he did, but making it my own and my own feel at Gonzaga.”

Nembhard connected with Wyoming transfer Graham Ike, who committed nearly an hour before he did last Friday, while both were visiting Gonzaga’s campus two weekends ago.

“I think we really just chopped it up on our visit and talked about some things we could do if we both came here,” Nembhard said. “I think we’re just both really big basketball minds and we love the game of basketball, and we just want to get out there and start to work.”

Both Nembhard brothers are back home in the Toronto area and plan to work out together before Ryan moves to Spokane in late June or early July. Ryan scored 30 points in an NCAA Tournament game against Baylor, and Gonzaga’s coaches hope to see him take a more aggressive when it comes to looking for his shot next season.

Ryan, a former Big East Freshman of the Year, improved his field-goal (43.2%), 3-point (35.6%) and free-throw (87.1%) percentages as a sophomore.

“I kind of want to work on shooting, work on my midrange game a lot,” Ryan said. “That’s something we talked about with the coaches during the process. Improving my floater, just being a little bit more aggressive in transition. Trying to get downhill a little bit more and just become a better all-around player.”