Gonzaga men’s basketball roster update: Ismaila Diagne completes 2024-25 team

Diagne’s commitment likely puts the book end on an eventful offseason for the Bulldogs
Photo by Erik Smith, Myk Crawford

On paper, the 2024-25 Gonzaga Bulldogs shape up as perhaps the deepest and most talented group in the Mark Few era.

That’s a bold statement considering the amount of NBA players and All-Americans that have come through the McCarthey Athletic Center doors in the past. But consider that seven of the top eight scorers from a team that won 16 of its last 19 games en route to another Sweet 16 appearance are all back in Spokane for another run, this time having more experience playing alongside one another than when they first joined forces. Add in a top-40 transfer portal class that addresses the needs for outside shooting, overall scoring and defensive versatility, it’s hard to find a weak point on the roster at first glance.

Perhaps the cherry on top of the 2024 offseason came after the Bulldogs landed a commitment from 7-foot center Ismaila Diagne, a 17-year-old from Senegal who helped lead the Real Madrid U18 team to victory at the Adidas Next Generation Tournament during the EuroLeague Final Four in May. Following an impressive run on the international stage, Diagne looks to add rebounding and rim protection to an already deep and well-rounded frontcourt rotation. 

“A huge opportunity for this young man to develop in Gonzaga’s program and become a really good piece for Gonzaga, maybe this year maybe next year, it’s hard to determine,” former Gonzaga All-American Dan Dickau said of Diagne. “But what I’m seeing is someone who’s extremely active on the glass especially with his length … he’s pretty good at rim running on the break, so you can tell he’s been well-coached.”

Gonzaga’s roster is set as Diagne lays claim to the team’s 13th and final open scholarship for next season. Here’s a look at how the Bulldogs shape out at this point in the offseason.

RETURNERS:

G Ryan Nembhard (senior)

G Nolan Hickman (senior)

G Joe Few (redshirt junior)

G Joaquim Aruz-Moore (sophomore)

F Ben Gregg (senior)

F Braden Huff (redshirt sophomore)

F Dusty Stromer (sophomore)

F Jun Seok Yeo (junior)

F Steele Venters (redshirt junior)

C Graham Ike (redshirt senior)

Bringing back 10 players in this day and age in college basketball, with the opportunities granted by the transfer portal and NIL, is quite impressive. In fact, according to Bart Tovrik, the Bulldogs return 81.4% of the minutes played from last season, which ranks as the fifth-most in the country and is the program’s highest retention rate in a year-to-year span since the 2005-06 season. It’s also the first time since the 2018-19 campaign that Few brought back three All-WCC players from the year prior. 

“I think my team deserves a ton of credit for staying together,” Few said on Gonzaga Nation. "Wanting to play together, valuing Gonzaga, this whole experience, life with the school and here in Spokane. And just playing with each other and sticking together as opposed to putting their name in the portal to go see how much money they can make. They deserve a ton of credit for that because it’s very, very rare.”

Nembhard will have the keys to offense once again after a historic first season as Few’s lead guard. While no one expects Nembhard to break the program record for assists in a season again, there’s optimism in the fact that for the first time since Josh Perkins, the Bulldogs are going to roll with the same point guard from the previous season. Based on the recent history of the sport, Nembhard’s return bodes well for the Bulldogs’ championship aspirations. 

Of the last 10 national champions, seven of those teams had the same starting point guard from the previous season. Two of the three exceptions went on to win multiple titles with the same starting point guard (2023 UConn and 2016). Continuity might not be as significant of a factor to win a national championship, but it certainly plays a role in regard to the point guard position.

Hickman’s return will play a role in Nembhard’s successes as well, given the now-seasoned senior is coming off a career year in which he averaged 14.0 points and shot 41.3% from the 3-point range. The Seattle native was far more consistent on a game-to-game basis as a junior and proved to be a solid fit at the two-guard position. Hickman should hit the ground running next fall given his comfortability in his role.

The same goes for Ike, who took some time to adjust to his new surroundings after 18 months away from the game. Once he hit his stride, the 6-foot-9 post was truly one of the dominant low-post scorers in the game toward the back half of the season. Now that the training wheels are off, Ike should be considered the preseason favorite to win the West Coast Conference Player of the Year award.

Ben Gregg, the spark plug that ignited the midseason turnaround in the starting lineup, could take on more of a leadership role as a senior who possesses all the key characteristics of a true Gonzaga player. Dusty Stromer will compete for minutes in a crowded wing position, while Braden Huff looks to be another big contributor as a redshirt sophomore.

NEWCOMERS:

G Khalif Battle (Arkansas grad transfer)

G Immanuel Innocenti (Tarleton State transfer)

G Braeden Smith (Colgate transfer, will redshirt)

G Cade Orness (freshman, preferred walk-on)

F Michael Ajayi (Pepperdine transfer)

F Noah Haaland (JUCO transfer, preferred walk-on)

C Ismaila Diagne (freshman)

Few and the coaching staff reeled in some big catches from the transfer portal pond to round out some areas for growth based on last season — 3-point shooting, scoring, defense and overall depth.

Battle provides quite the scoring pop after he averaged 29.6 points over his last seven games with the Razorbacks. The 6-foot-5 guard figures to rotate in with Nembhard and Hickman in the backcourt, though there’s potential for him to share the court with the two All-WCC guards in certain situations that require Gonzaga to go with a smaller lineup. 

The same goes for Innocenti. His presence will be felt greater on the defensive end of the floor, as the Italian wing can defend multiple positions and gives the Zags a perimeter player who can switch screens effectively. Innocenti was WAC All-Defense and WAC All-Freshman this past season.

“I really like what I see in bringing him to this roster," Dan Dickau said of Innocenti on Gonzaga Nation. "If you’re willing to go challenge for playing time at a high program like a Gonzaga, you’re built with the makeup of wanting to go get it."

Ajayi adds even more scoring as a 6-foot-7 wing who shot 47.0% from 3-point range this past season. The Pepperdine transfer led the WCC in scoring with 17.2 points to go with 9.9 rebounds per game. After turning some heads at the NBA Draft Combine, a lot of eyes will be on Ajayi as a senior on a top 10 team in the country. 

Along with Colgate transfer Braeden Smith, the reigning Patriot League Player of the Year who will redshirt next season, many of Gonzaga’s portal additions addressed the lack of depth at the guard spot. As for Diagne, a 7-footer who can protect the rim and is a lob threat as a rim-running center on offense, his athleticism and length are valuable traits near the rim on both ends of the floor.

Even if he doesn’t feature immediately, Diagne could be a contributor in the future.

“I think he’s gonna bring a lot to the table,” Dickau said of Diagne.”But again, expectations should and probably need to be tempered based on him being a late addition.”

Haaland and Orness likely won’t see the floor — fellow walk-on Aruz-Moore didn’t see the floor as a freshman last season — but they’ll still get valuable reps in practice. 

DEPARTURES:

G Luka Krajnovic (transfer portal)

F Colby Brooks (transfer portal)

F Pavle Stosic (Utah State)

F Anton Watson (graduated)

There’s not a one-for-one replacement out there for a player like Watson, who’s been Gonzaga’s problem-solver on both ends of the floor for the greater part of his five-year career. His departure will likely be felt in many ways, especially on the defensive end of the floor where he often was tasked with guarding the opponent’s best offensive player. Without a true defensive anchor on the roster, it’ll require a collective group effort to fill that void left by Watson. 

It’s unknown how much playing time would’ve gone either to Stosic or Krajnovic given how the roster has shaped out for next season. 


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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.