Zags, '18-19: Cue the hoopla
04-12-18

So, yeah, cue the trumpets. Fire up the fanfare. The hyperbole around the next edition of the Gonzaga men’s basketball team is going to be substantial. And if you’re a Zags basketball fan, exhilarating.

Maybe only Shohei Ohtani has had a better week than the Zags. First, they got a thumbs-up from Rui Hachimura on a return for his junior season. That one, in my mind, satisfied the biggest questionmark of the off-season.

On the heels of that announcement came word that Killian Tillie, a classmate of Hachimura, is also on board for 2018-19. Tillie’s 2018 NCAA tournament was a downer, after a dazzling MVP tour in the WCC tournament. In the big show, he went 3 for 12 for nine points, didn’t hit a three over two games, and his hip injury just prior to Florida State was a precursor to GU’s lousy night and an exit from the Sweet 16.

Gonzaga’s front line could be ridiculously flush, with Hachimura, Tillie, all-Mountain West expat Brandon Clarke, great Dane Jacob Larsen and newcomer Filip Petrusev.

All that remains is assurance that point guard Josh Perkins is back for a fifth year -- and there’s no real reason to guess otherwise -- and the buzz around the Zags will be immense.

And unprecedented. By my reckoning, Gonzaga has been ranked in the AP preseason top 10 four times -- 10th in 2003-04 (Stepp, Turiaf, Violette, Morrison); 8th in 2005-06 (Morrison, Batista, Raivio); 10th in 2008-09 (Heytvelt, Downs, Bouldin) and 9th in 2015-16 (Wiltjer, Sabonis).

Assuming all the pieces stay in place from April to November, this will be the highest-ranked GU team in history entering a season, likely top five. If a national championship is ever going to happen, this might be the year.

The promise guarantees nothing, of course, and who better to remind the faithful than Mark Few, a guy who could pooh-pooh Secretariat on the final turn at Belmont?

Injuries can happen, complacency can happen, chemistry can go awry, leadership can dry up. For one, it’s not unreasonable to ask: Are there enough balls to go around on a team that figures to retain eight of its top 10 scorers?

Blessedly for Zag fans, there’s little history of GU being outflanked by expectation over a full season. You could cite 2015-16, the year Gonzaga had to win the WCC to get to the NCAA tournament, but a lot of that had to do with Przemek Karnowski’s December back injury that scuttled his season. (An aside: If it’s true that Tillie’s hip injury would have rendered him less than full speed for pre-NBA workouts, and he might otherwise have jumped, there’s the possibility of the same silver lining GU experienced with Karnowski’s return in ’16-17.)

Meanwhile, the Zags continue to recruit, plumbing the grad-transfer market as well as the living room of one Brandon Williams, the point guard from Encino, Calif. who pulled out of a commitment to Arizona and is considering GU, Arizona State and Oregon, among others.

In a piece in 247Sports.com on the visit by GU coaches, Williams’ father, Chris Wright, said of Few, “He said the one thing they’re missing is a dynamic guy that can get into the paint and make plays.”

Think of it. A guard who can penetrate and create. When has Gonzaga had one of those?

Stories on recruiting sites tend to explode with puffery, but it was evident from Wright’s comments that Gonzaga had surprised him and his son. Wright was quoted, “When I got back from walking them out of the house, he looked and me and shook his head and said he was so confused about what to do now.”

That rang a bell. Nigel Williams-Goss told me the same thing about his home visit when he was culling possible destinations after leaving Washington.

Borrowing from “Glory Hounds:” “They completely elevated in my mind,” Williams-Goss said. “Again, it was going back to the preparation, the workouts . . . like the amount of film they watch, just the preparation that goes into being successful.”

In the 247Sports.com story, Wright was also quoted as saying his son likely would be in college only two years, and that a major priority is “him having the ball from day one.”

So this would be the second time (Williams-Goss having been the first) Josh Perkins and a newcomer would have to be persuaded they can flourish together.

If there was any presumptuousness in Wright’s observations, Few probably has come to grips with them. Besides, he needs to get used to it. His own fan base is going to be presuming a lot about the ’18-19 Zags.


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