An inside look at Gonzaga’s 'holistic' approach to player development: 'They don’t feel micromanaged'

Men’s basketball strength and conditioning coach Travis Knight shared insights on how the Bulldogs prepare their players for long-term success on an episode of Gonzaga Nation
Photo by Erik Smith, Myk Crawford

Gonzaga men’s basketball strength and conditioning coach Travis Knight often uses bamboo as a metaphor for player development. Because like the evergreen perennial, some of the most successful players to come through the program didn’t just see growth overnight.

“We have bamboo on our wall to remind them of watering the bamboo,” Knight said. “That you have to have this trust in something that you’re not gonna see that come to fruition for a while.”

The Zags have had a select share of one-and-dones over the years — Zach Collins, Jalen Suggs, Chet Holmgren — though a majority of the notable alumni who’ve gone on to play in the NBA did so after spending multiple years honing their craft and learning the game. Adam Morrison (2006), Kelly Olynyk (2013), Rui Hachimura (2019) and Corey Kispert (2021) were all in school for at least three years (some four) before becoming NBA lottery picks. Of course one of the all-time program legends and its all-time leading scorer, Drew Timme, spent four years in Spokane before moving on to the pros.

A big part of playing the long game, according to Knight, is more about having trust in the process than it is about seeing immediate results.

“Our weight room has a lot of hidden messages in it, and one of them is, we call it the ‘dojo’ cause that just means the ‘place of the way,’” Knight said. “So it's more about buying into the way than about knowing every little thing that’s gonna happen along the way. Cause when really great outcomes happen, you see things you didn’t anticipate.”

Communication is the baseline key component of the player development process. Knight often sits with recruits to build a vision of what kind of player they want to be, and what kind of player the team needs them to be. 

“If those two things align, we’re going to be really successful,” Knight said.

Then it’s on the players to put in the work. 

“This place’s success is driven not only by coach Few and his standards and our staff, but also by the kind of guys who come in who really want to be pushed and they want to get better,” Knight said. “It’s an environment where we want you to flourish. And in order to flourish, you got to have energy, you got to have life to you and you got to be enthusiastic.”

Knight also emphasizes the importance of balance in just about every aspect imaginable, from inside the weight room to the manner in which the team approaches a game.

“There’s this nice combination between being really loose and being really focused,” Knight said. “And [the players] can toggle between the two really well. They don’t feel micromanaged.”

Knight shared more insight on Gonzaga’s player development and much more on a new Gonzaga Nation episode.

WATCH THE FULL EPISODE BELOW:

Produced by Thomas Gallagher.

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Cole Forsman

COLE FORSMAN

Cole Forsman is a reporter for Gonzaga Nation, a member of Sports Illustrated’s FanNation network. Cole holds a degree in Journalism and Sports Management from Gonzaga University.