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Sports >  Gonzaga basketball

Former Gonzaga guard Kyle Bankhead crafts game plan against alma mater

Jan. 5, 2023 Updated Thu., Jan. 5, 2023 at 11:26 p.m.

San Francisco assistant coach Kyle Bankhead watches Gonzaga warm up before Thursday’s West Coast Conference game at War Memorial Gym in San Francisco.  (Tyler Tjomsland/The Spokesman-Review)
San Francisco assistant coach Kyle Bankhead watches Gonzaga warm up before Thursday’s West Coast Conference game at War Memorial Gym in San Francisco. (Tyler Tjomsland/The Spokesman-Review) Buy this photo

SAN FRANCISCO – From the small world department of college basketball, San Francisco’s scouting report against No. 9 Gonzaga was prepared by a former Zags player and administrative assistant.

Kyle Bankhead, who is in his first season as a USF assistant, is well known to Gonzaga followers for his pure shooting stroke – 45.3% accuracy on career 3-point attempts – and his rise from walk-on to scholarship player with 50 starts during his career from 2001-04.

Bankhead’s scout turned out to be a solid one. San Francisco led 46-36 at halftime, but the Dons’ upset bid came up short as the Zags rallied late for a 77-75 win Thursday.

The Walla Walla native has been in the coaching business since his playing days ended, including eight seasons on former GU assistant Billy Grier’s staff at San Diego. Bankhead compiled several GU scouts for USD back in those days.

“It’s always pretty hard scouting them,” Bankhead said prior to Thursday’s game. “They’re one of the best teams in the country and people don’t realize how good they are defensively. The conference has gotten a little stronger (since he assisted at San Diego). The players and coaching have really been trending in an upward direction.

“It’s obviously a good conference and a competitive conference with three teams last year in the NCAA Tournament. Obviously, (teams) are chasing Gonzaga, but there are other good teams in the conference, too.”

Bankhead has many GU connections. He was teammates with current Zags assistant coaches Brian Michaelson for three years and Stephen Gentry for one .

“It is tight knit,” Bankhead said. “Stephen was like my little brother in college. Brian came in as I was getting older at Gonzaga and he kind of had the same path as me. They have to worry about their program and I have to worry about this one, but I follow them. I’m obviously proud of them and how hard they’ve worked to get there.”

Bankhead got to know the Timme family when he was an assistant coach at Abilene Christian last season. Drew’s younger brother Walker attended camps at ACU.

When Drew Timme scored on a driving layup with 2:20 left in the first half, he moved past Adam Morrison into third place on GU’s all-time scoring list. Morrison, who was a freshman at GU when Bankhead was a senior, is an analyst on Gonzaga radio broadcasts, but wasn’t at Thursday’s game.

“Timme is an incredible player,” Bankhead said. “I’ve been watching a ton of film – he makes the game look pretty darn easy. I told Michaelson it’s such a luxury for them if they’re struggling they can throw the ball to him and he’s pretty good about getting them going.

“I don’t think anybody should ever forget about ‘Mo’ (Morrison) either. I still tell people what Mo did in practice was probably more impressive than games. He was unbelievable. Both of them are darn near impossible to stop.”

Timme had a rough night, finishing with 11 points on 3-of-16 shooting from the field.

“We were going to pick our poison and sag a little off their four man and try to crowd and protect the paint,” USF head coach Chris Gerlufsen said. “Drew is arguably the best player in the country. Our goal was just to try to make him a little uncomfortable, maybe not let him catch it exactly where he wants to catch it.

“Drew is really good when he leans on you and feels you and can spin off angles. ‘Vova’ (former Washington State Cougars center Volodymyr Markovetskyy) did a good job of creating some space and making him finish over a big body. Our interior guys embraced what the game plan was and really went out and executed it.”

Bankhead has also assisted at UNC Greensboro and was head coach at prep power Sunrise Christian Academy in Kansas. He was director of operations at UNCG when fourth-seeded Gonzaga edged the 13th-seeded Spartans 68-64 in the first round of the 2018 NCAA Tournament.

His path to the San Francisco assistant coaching position started with a congratulatory text to Gerlufsen, who was elevated to head coach when Todd Golden took the Florida job.

“I knew Chris throughout the profession,” Bankhead said. “He’s done a lot of recruiting overseas and I’ve found myself recruiting overseas. I didn’t even think about it when I saw he got the job and shot him a text, ‘I’m so happy for you’ and congratulating him.

“He texted me back, ‘Thanks,’ and ‘Maybe let’s talk in a couple weeks.’ About 3-4 weeks later, he gave me a call and we had a conversation and he ended up offering me a job. It didn’t take long to accept.”

The move brought Bankhead back to the West Coast Conference and closer to his Washington roots.

“Getting back West has been refreshing a little bit, even though I really liked my previous stops,” Bankhead said. “My friends and family are on the West Coast, but I’ve been fortunate with the success we had at Abilene Christian and UNCG.”

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