Steele Venters, a junior wing who transferred to Gonzaga after winning Big Sky Conference Player of the Year honors last season at Eastern Washington, is expected to miss the 2023-24 college basketball season due to a knee injury, according to a report Wednesday evening from the Messenger’s Jeff Goodman.
Venters, a 15.3 points-per-game scorer for the Eagles last season, was projected to start for the 11th-ranked Bulldogs in Friday’s season opener against Yale. The exact nature of the injury wasn’t specified.
The timing of the news suggest Venters’ injury occurred within the past four days. Venters started in last Friday’s exhibition game against NAIA Lewis-Clark State and didn’t appear to sustain an injury while playing roughly 18 minutes against the Warriors.
Venters checked out of the exhibition for the final time with 15 minutes, 30 seconds remaining in the second half after scoring two points on 1-of-4 shooting from the field and 0 of 2 from the 3-point line.
The Ellensburg native who arrived at Eastern Washington as a walk-on was brought to Gonzaga primarily to fill the void left by wing Julian Strawther, who was selected by the reigning champion Denver Nuggets with the 31st overall pick of the 2023 NBA draft.
After entering the transfer portal, Venters was contacted by college basketball programs in every major conference, but the 6-foot-7, 195-pound wing elected to stay in his home state , telling The Spokesman-Review in April, “Always growing up, coming from Washington and a small town in Ellensburg, you always want to play at Gonzaga. That’s the main team we watch growing up, watching basketball or college basketball.”
Gonzaga forward Ben Gregg chimed in on X, formerly known as Twitter, with a message for Venters Wednesday evening: “Love you brother! He’s coming back better than ever!”
Venters’ absence not only leaves a hole in Gonzaga’s starting lineup, but diminishes the depth of a Bulldogs team that’s trying to replace four of its top five scorers from 2022-23 and seven players who logged minutes for Mark Few’s squad last season.
Freshman Dusty Stromer spent the majority of the time at Venters’ position during Friday’s exhibition against LCSC when the junior transfer wasn’t on the floor. He appears to be the most likely candidate to fill Venters’ role in the starting lineup.
Stromer, a 6-6, 192-pound guard/forward, was a four-star prospect who joined the Zags after a decorated career at Sherman Oaks Notre Dame High School in the Los Angeles suburbs. The 12th-ranked prospect in California, according to 247Sports.com, is a standout perimeter shooter who has a good feel for the game and someone who brings versatility on the defensive end.
The freshman was a bright spot during Friday’s exhibition, scoring eight points on 3-of-5 shooting from the floor with six rebounds, two assists, two blocks and one steal.
Few told reporters after the exhibition that Gonzaga had been using Jun Seok Yeo, a sophomore forward from South Korea, as a “3” in different lineups, making him a potential candidate for playing time in the Bulldogs’ now-tightened rotation.
The Bulldogs could also experiment with other lineups and plug senior Anton Watson, junior Ben Gregg or redshirt freshman Braden Huff in at the small forward position.
If Venters is able to obtain a medical redshirt from the NCAA, he’d be eligible to play for the Bulldogs in 2024-25 and 2025-26. Venters redshirted at EWU as a preferred walk-on during the 2019-20 season.