Much of what Gonzaga must deal with in this season's campaign is about fulfilling the mantra of "next man up."
After a historic season, the Bulldogs are looking at a roster devoid of their top three scorers from last season — Nigel Williams-Goss, Przemek Karnowski and Jordan Mathews. A roster devoid of freshman phenom and first man off the bench Zach Collins. Hell, a roster devoid of even familiar faces at the end of the bench, like Rem Bakamus and Dustin Triano.
So as the Zags look to continue their dominance in the West Coast Conference and retain their reputation as one of the elite programs in all of college basketball, here are some players you'll quickly need to get familiar with.
Japan's Hachimura may one day be regarded as the best foreign prospect ever recruited to Gonzaga. The 6-foot-8 sophomore saw little of the court (128 minutes, to be exact) his freshman year, due to all sorts of barriers. He had to deal with an unfamiliar language and culture, as well as learning a whole new style of basketball. But there's no question that the raw talent is there: He was the second-leading scorer (20.6 ppg) and third-highest rebounder (11 rpg) in this year's FIBA U-19 World Cup. This season looks likely to be one of growth for Hachimura, like a superhero origin story. He'll be able to learn from the highs and lows that more playing time has to offer. Once the future face of Team Japan finds meaningful minutes and gains experience, the sky's the limit.
Norvell has the potential to immediately slide into the role that Jordan Mathews held last year. Go find the highlight video of him knocking down 14 threes in an AAU game two years back. The 6-foot-5 redshirt freshman has an undeniably sweet stroke, and a swagger that harkens back to previous great guards from his home city of Chicago. Due to the lack of depth resulting from the aforementioned departures, Norvell may be instant offense off the bench, and a lead cog for the second unit and head coach Mark Few to rely on this year.
If you thought the graduation of Karnowski and Collins' departure for the NBA would mean the end of back-to-the-basket Gonzaga offenses, think again. At nearly 7 feet, Larsen is a prototypical European big man, offering a skill set that reminds one of the stellar centers the Zags have employed over the past decade at a position Few loves to play through. Don't expect Larsen — who redshirted after suffering a season-ending injury in the first week of practice last October — to log major minutes, but anywhere between 15 and 20 per game will indicate a successful first season for the great Dane.
Ranked the fourth-best high school player in Washington state — playing at King's High in Shoreline — Kispert is a dream option for Few, who can insert him into the lineup in a number of ways. At 6-foot-6, he's shown the ability to play off-guard or small forward, which will spell trouble for WCC teams trying to find someone to guard him. Kispert's freshman season will likely see him coming off the bench, but playing valuable minutes.
Jesse Wade and Joel Ayayi
A recurring storyline this season will be how Gonzaga deals with having only one primary ballhandler in Josh Perkins. Both Wade and Ayayi offer high ceilings, along with classic freshman concerns for the point-guard position. Wade (175 pounds) and Ayayi (170) could use more time maturing and gaining more weight before playing Division I basketball at a high level.
Wade, a prolific high school scorer in Utah, spent the past two years fulfilling his Mormon mission. A backcourt of Wade and Norvell would rack up plenty of three-pointers and free tacos for the Kennel Club. Ayayi's offensive game is growing; the 17-year-old, a standout on France's U-16 team, already offers high-level quickness, length (he's 6-foot-5 with a 6-7 wingspan) and defensive skills. ♦