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Gonzaga Basketball

Star power: Zach Edey, freshmen phenoms highlight Gonzaga’s nonconference schedule

Gonzaga’s Graham Ike nonchalantly cited a specific example when asked if he’s faced anyone like Purdue center Zach Edey.

“Yeah, Zach and I played against each other once in AAU ball in high school,” Ike said.

How’d that go?

“We lost,” Ike shrugged.

The 11th-ranked Zags take on Edey, who swept all six major player of the year awards last season, and No. 2 Purdue on Monday at the Maui Invitational.

Edey headlines the best players on the best teams Gonzaga will tangle with in its 14 nonconference games. It’s an impressive group that includes All-Americans, established stars, freshmen phenoms and projected lottery picks, not to mention four rematches against opponents from last season.

GU successfully dealt with All-Ivy League forward Matt Knowling in Friday’s season-opening 86-71 win over Yale. Knowling finished with nine points, five below his average last season.

Edey, again

Ike and the Zags have history with Edey. Gonzaga was roughed up by the 7-foot-4, 300-pound Edey – 23 points, seven rebounds and three blocks – and his hot-shooting teammates in Purdue’s 84-66 victory last November at the PK85 in Portland.

The towering post has picked up right where he left off last season. After seeing reduced minutes in a pair of season-opening routs, Edey had 28 points and 11 rebounds in an 83-71 victory over Xavier on Monday. He’s averaging 20.7 points, 10.0 boards, 3.7 blocks and 2.0 assists.

“Edey had one of the most statistically dominating seasons in college basketball history, averaging 22.3 points, 12.9 rebounds, 2.1 blocks and 1.5 assists per game, while shooting 60.7% from the field and 73.4% from the free-throw line,” reads the first sentence of Edey’s bio on Purdue basketball’s Website.

Edey, the front-runner to repeat as player of the year, is a matchup nightmare with his sheer size and strength. He applies heavy foul pressure on opposing frontcourts and he’s improved his free-throw shooting (80% through three games) and passing (a career-best 1.5 assists last year and 2.0 this season).

Edey isn’t the only standout big in Maui. The Zags could run into No. 1 Kansas and center Hunter Dickinson, who had 27 points and 21 rebounds in Wednesday’s victory over Kentucky, on the final day. The 7-2, 260-pound Dickinson earned first-team All-Big Ten honors at Michigan the past two seasons.

GU could also meet No. 4 Marquette, led by All-American guard Tyler Kolek, on Wednesday.

Gonzaga’s second-round foe will be Syracuse or Tennessee. Judah Mintz, a 6-4 sophomore guard, has averaged 23 points and 5.0 assists for Syracuse (3-0). No. 7 Tennessee has an outstanding backcourt with All-SEC performers Zakai Zeigler and Santiago Vescovi, but Northern Colorado transfer wing Dalton Knecht is averaging nearly 20 points and has been the leading scorer in all three wins.

Isaiah Collier (USC vs. GU, Dec. 2, in Las Vegas)

Collier, the nation’s top recruit, joins Boogie Ellis to form one of the nation’s best backcourts. The unit will get even better with LeBron James’ son Bronny expected to return at some point after suffering cardiac arrest during a team workout in July.

Collier has an NBA-ready frame at 6-5 and 210 pounds. He is an elite playmaker with the ability to score inside and outside. He led the Trojans with 23 points, but made just 6 of 18 shots and committed seven turnovers in an upset loss to UC Irvine. Ellis missed the game due to injury.

Collier is still shooting 50% from the field and 87% at the foul line, but he’s struggled with turnovers (17). He’s projected as the No. 2 pick in the Athletic’s 2024 mock draft.

Keion Brooks Jr. (GU at UW, Dec. 9)

Brooks, a 6-7 forward, was second-team All-Pac-12 last season after averaging 17.7 points, 6.7 rebounds and 1.2 blocks – all top 10 in the conference.

He scored 22 points against Bellarmine in the season opener. He had 32 points, 10 rebounds and zero turnovers against Northern Kentucky in the second game, joining Todd MacCulloch as the only Huskies with at least 30 points and 10 boards and no turnovers. Brooks scored 19 points in a home loss to Nevada, but his shooting accuracy slipped (7 of 15 from the field 1 of 5 on 3-pointers).

Brooks was a top-35 recruit nationally and played three years at Kentucky before transferring to Washington. He finished with 14 points, five boards and six turnovers in a 77-60 loss to Gonzaga last year at the McCarthey Athletic Center.

Donovan Clingan (UConn vs. GU, Dec. 15, in Seattle)

Yet another outstanding big awaits the Zags. The 7-2, 280-pound Clingan takes center stage after backing up Adama Sanogo on UConn’s national championship team.

Clingan had modest stats last year – 6.9 points, 5.8 rebounds, 1.8 blocks, 65.5% from the field – but there was little or no drop-off when he came off the bench to replace Sanogo. Clingan was named tournament MVP after averaging 9.3 points and 7.7 rebounds in just 16 minutes per game as UConn won its bracket at the PK85.

The Zags saw it up close as Clingan chipped in six points and three blocks in the Huskies’ rout over GU in the Elite Eight last March.

Clingan has averaged 15.0 points and 6.7 rebounds in just 18 minutes in three UConn blowout victories. He’s connected on 61.3% of his shots but just 35% (7 of 20) at the free-throw line.

Jaedon LeDee (San Diego State at GU, Dec. 29)

The 6-9, 240-pound senior has had an interesting career path. He began at Ohio State, then played two years at TCU before transferring to San Diego State. The fifth-year senior has moved into the starting lineup after making just four starts in his first 118 career games.

LeDee put up 27, 21 and 27 points while shooting 62.5% from the field in the Aztecs’ 2-1 start. He’s made 23 of 30 free throws, the latter tied for sixth-most attempts nationally with Edey.

LeDee was a strong contributor off the bench last season and averaged 7.8 points, 6.0 rebounds and 18.7 minutes in the NCAA Tournament as the Aztecs reached the title game before falling to UConn.

Justin Edwards (GU at Kentucky, Feb. 10)

Tough call picking out one Wildcat from the team’s top-ranked recruiting class that included Edwards (No. 3, according to 247sports composite rankings), Aaron Bradshaw (No. 4, sidelined with foot injury), D.J. Wagner (No. 6) and Rob Dillingham (No. 16).

We gave the nod to Edwards, who was off to a solid start at 14 points and 8.0 rebounds in the first two games before a rough performance (one point, 0 of 6 from field, four rebounds, two assists, two turnovers in 29 minutes) in Wednesday’s loss to Kansas. He wasn’t alone as Wagner made just 1 of 12 shots and scored four points.

Edwards, a 6-8 forward from Philadelphia, has been called the most well-rounded player in the 2023 recruiting class. He can score at all three levels and he’s capable of guarding multiple positions.

Edwards is in the 4-to-6 range in most mock drafts.