Even the most ardent Gonzaga fans may have trouble recalling how the Bulldogs fared the last time they had to replace the program’s all-time leader scorer.
Frank Burgess wrapped up his brilliant three-year GU career by averaging 32.4 points in the 1960-61 season to finish with 2,196 points – achieved remarkably in just 78 games.
Mark Few was born about 21 months later in 1962. Drew Timme arrived at Gonzaga in 2019 and the entertaining Texan racked up 2,307 points over four seasons filled with spin moves, ‘stache celebrations and memorable sound bites.
“It’s been an adjustment for all of us,” Few said recently. “Just his personality, right. When he walks into the athletic complex, when he walks in the door no matter where you are, you know he’s there.
“It’s definitely quieter and a lot of things are different, but hey, miss his personality. One thing is as fun and goofy and outspoken as he is, he was just a hellacious competitor.”
Time marches on and ardent GU fans may be wondering: What happens next with Timme embarking on a pro career? Does Gonzaga’s high-powered offense – No. 1 in scoring average each of the last five seasons – take a step back? Who fills the scoring void left by Timme? Who gets the ball when Gonzaga absolutely, positively needs a bucket?
Fair questions all, but the Zags certainly have scoring options, several of them proven, even if they were wearing different uniforms at the time. And Few, entering his 25th season as head coach, has experience replacing scoring machines (Dan Dickau, Adam Morrison, Kyle Wiltjer, etc.).
Wyoming transfer Graham Ike, who sat out last season with a foot injury, is projected to replace Timme in the starting five. The 6-foot-9, 240-pound Ike has a different style than Timme, but his 2022 stats demonstrated his scoring ability (19.5 points per game), presence in the paint (9.6 rebounds) and passing skills (1.3 assists).
The Zags could use all the above from Ike to keep the scoreboard operator busy, but it’s probably unfair to expect he’ll match Timme’s numbers. Last year’s offense usually ran through Timme, who responded by leading the team in scoring (21.2), rebounding (7.5) and assists (3.2).
The left-handed shooting Ike made a lasting impression on Boise State coach Leon Rice, despite the big man being limited to 45 games due to injuries in 2021 and 2023.
“When he was leaving Wyoming, there were only a couple of programs that would be absolutely a perfect fit for him and Gonzaga was No. 1 on that list,” said Rice, a GU assistant for Few for 11 seasons before taking over at BSU. “They know how to use bigs and in that system that kid is going to be even better. And Mark has shooters around him.”
Ike is a difficult matchup because of his size and strength, touch around the basket and willingness to pass. He’s seemingly an ideal fit for the Zags, who prefer playing inside out.
“We had a great defender (Mladen Armus), one of the best in the country, and we couldn’t stop him,” Rice said. “You can’t stop him with one guy. I told Mark the thing you’re probably going to see is he’s going to require a double a lot more than even Drew did because with Drew, it was so hard to double him because he was so unpredictable about where he could get the ball, he’s such a great passer and he’d get it away from the hoop.
“Graham is going to get that ball at point blank and if you don’t come double he’s going to score, especially in their system.”
If Ike continues to be a force on the low block, it should open up the floor for the rest of the Zags, including returning starters Anton Watson and Nolan Hickman, and transfers Ryan Nembhard (Creighton) and Steele Venters (Eastern Washington).
Gonzaga transfers usually don’t score quite at the same clip as they did at their previous school when they were often the first or second option. However, it’s not a stretch to think Ike, Nembhard and Venters could become the team’s top three scorers.
Nembhard, younger brother of former GU standout point guard Andrew Nembhard, produced 12.1 points and 4.8 assists per game a year ago. Venters led EWU with 78 3-pointers and a 15.3 scoring average.
The 6-8 Watson averaged a career best 11.1 points and that figures to increase in his fifth season. Hickman, who averaged 7.7 points as the starting point guard last year, is expected to play off the ball more and could see additional scoring opportunities.
The starting lineup and rotation obviously isn’t set in stone. There are numerous candidates for significant playing time, including Ben Gregg, the first big off the bench last season, redshirt freshman Braden Huff, South Korean forward Jun Seok Yeo and freshmen Dusty Stromer, Luka Krajnović and Pavle Stosic.
And for those that haven’t Googled it by now, coach Hank Anderson’s 1962 team finished 14-12, a three-game improvement from Burgess’ final season. If the Zags improve on last year’s 31-6 record by three games, ardent fans would be in for a special season.