Gonzaga basketball preview: With the best frontcourt in the country, the Zags could be ready for a sensational season.
This article originally appeared in the the Nov. 9, 2015, issue of Sports Illustrated. Subscribe to the magazine here.
Mark Few knows most coaches would kill to have his problem: How to get the most out of three players, all 6'10" or taller and All-America candidates? “‘Just play the three together’ is sort of the simpleton take,” says Few, “but it’s hard to look back and see somebody who’s played three 6'10" or 6'11" guys at the same time. We’ll figure it out though.”
Senior forward Kyle Wiltjer, a leading candidate for player of the year, can stretch the floor with his three-point shooting (46.6% in 2014–15), and he worked to get stronger in the off-season. Senior center Przemek Karnowski (10.9 points, 5.8 rebounds), a beast on the block, is one of the nation’s most underrated players. And sophomore forward Domantas Sabonis has sticky hands, a high motor and an exceptional feel for the game. But what happens when opposing teams press them? How will they space the floor? And can Wiltjer, who’s smooth and cerebral but not especially athletic, guard on the perimeter? His added strength will help him rebound more effectively, but he still lacks speed.
In each of his 16 seasons Few has tailored the offense to fit the Zags’ strengths. As he waits for the backcourt to catch up—all three guard positions are open after the exits of Kevin Pangos, Gary Bell Jr. and Byron Wesley—he’ll lean heavily on his big three.
Eric McClellan, 6'4"senior guard
McClellan started out at Tulsa, averaged 14.3 points in 12 games for Vanderbilt, then played 18 games for Gonzaga last season. The slashing combo guard will see time at all three perimeter spots this season.
“With our guards, it’s not going to be like in the past, where one guy plays 38 minutes. They’re very close to each other in ability: They call all pass, shoot, handle it, move their feet, understand and manipulate ball screens. There’s a lot there, we’ve just got to get them to value winning plays and consistency, and understand the importance of details.” — Mark Few