The Associated Press considers Gonzaga the No. 23 men’s basketball team in the nation heading into the season. And the West Coast Conference coaches see enough talent to make the Zags favorites to win their 12th consecutive regular-season conference title.
But coach Mark Few sees other attributes in his 2011-12 Zags that supersede talent.
“I wouldn’t say it’s an overly talented team,” Few said. “We’ve had teams with a lot more talent than these guys, but the chemistry is probably as good as any team I’ve ever had, and the ability to listen and pick up on things is right up there, too, especially with how many new guys we have.”
The prime loss off last year’s 25-10 Zags was guard Steven Gray, who averaged 13.9 points and helped the Zags advance to their 13th consecutive NCAA tournament. In the second round, they lost to the Jimmer Fredette-led Brigham Young Cougars, an addition to the WCC in 2011.
So, a few of the names will be familiar, as senior center Robert Sacre and junior forward Elias Harris give the Zags a talented and physical front court. The 6-9 Sam Dower returns for depth, while it appears likely that junior Kelly Olynyk could be scheduled to redshirt this year.
An interesting newcomer who came up with 11 rebounds in the Zags’ exhibition win over Carroll College is 6-8 freshman Ryan Spangler. The 232-pound Spangler not only averaged 29 points and 17 rebounds a game last year at Bridge Creek, Okla., to earn honors as Parade All-America and Oklahoma Player of the Year honors, he also was the quarterback on the football team.
Few started three guards in the exhibition – sophomore David Stockton, junior Marquise Carter and true freshman Gary Bell Jr.
The Stockton name needs no introduction, Carter was the MVP of the WCC tournament in March, and Bell is the highly recruited, two-time all-stater out of Kentridge High.
A couple of others show promise on the perimeter, too, as Canadian freshman Kevin Pangos made every shot he took to score 16 points in an early scrimmage (“He’s a crafty, smart, skilled guy,” Few said) and junior transfer Guy Landry Edi “showed he can help us a lot at a wing spot.”
Edi, a native of the Ivory Coast, shot 40 percent from 3-point range for Midland (Texas) College, last year’s NJCAA national champion.
“I’m happy with the way they’re immersing themselves,” Few said of the additions. “It seems to be a smooth transition for pretty much all of them.”
Few’s Zags had a difficult time early last season, standing 4-5 in mid-December before winning nine in a row. Conference action started similarly, when three losses in a row in late January left them 3-3 and looking as if their string of consecutive titles was severely threatened.
They reeled off eight consecutive league wins, though, to capture their 11th WCC title in a row.
This team will play to its veteran strength under the basket, but it will share characteristics of many of its predecessors.
“They’ve been going really hard,” Few said. “This is a really good group for that; they show up and do their work. They’re high-character guys, and this means a lot to them.”
Carter said the squad’s practices have been fiercely competitive.
“I think we realize the potential of this team, so we’re looking forward to every practice and pushing each other every day in practice,” he said. “The chemistry and the way we connect on and off the court is really special with this team, and we’re trying to take advantage of it.”
They get their first real chance Friday at home at the McCarthey Athletic Center against Eastern Washington, and then play host to Washington State on Monday in a game carried on ESPN.
Dave Boling: 253-597-8440 firstname.lastname@example.org