While Gonzaga returns a strong core in three starters next season, the bench is set to see even more change. With change comes opportunity, and next year poses bench experience, anticipation and young talent in a strong recruiting class.
Upon the departure of graduated sixth man Drew Barham, reserve Brian Bhaskar, and both Gerard Coleman and Lucas Meikle who recently announced their plans to transfer, the 2013-14 bench now loses four player from last season. Simultaneously, four bench players return.
The starting lineup will likely look like this:
G-Kevin Pangos (Sr.)
G-Gary Bell Jr. (Sr.)
SF-Byron Wesley (Sr.)
PF-Kyle Wiltjer (RS Jr.)
C-Przemek Karnowski (Jr.)
An array of bench players will fill the backup spots, and it remains unclear how that might look, but the personnel is as follows:
G/F-Kyle Dranginis (Jr.): The guard/forward’s defensive tenacity gives little doubt that he will be a key contributor off the bench next season. He averaged 6.1 points, just shy of four rebounds and shot 38 percent from 3-point range in 2013-14 and if not for the transfer of immediately eligible senior Byron Wesley, it is safe to assume that Dranginis would have probably started.
F-Angel Nunez (RS Jr.): Nunez is a highlight reel waiting to happen. Transferring from Louisville shortly before they won a national championship, Nunez played in 24 games after becoming eligible at the start of second semester in December. One of (if not) the best raw athlete on the roster, the 6’8” forward averaged only 3.5 points and 2 rebounds per game, but provided an impactful spark off the bench at times. In his third game for the Zags he scored 13 points against Saint Mary’s, and had another 13 at home against Portland. If Nunez proves to be a consistent threat beyond the arc, his athleticism will add to a talented bench, but questions remain in the air about his consistency.
C-Ryan Edwards (Soph): With no AAU experience for the 7’1” center weighing in at nearly 300 pounds, Edwards embodies the “project” role. Appearing in 17 games as a backup center, the raw and untested Edwards showed flashes of serviceability and a recruiting risk that may begin to pay off. Edwards will get solid minutes behind Karnowski, who may struggle with long stints, but will battle for backup minutes with Sabonis. Edwards has also expressed an interest in redshirting,
PG-Josh Perkins (Fr.): Alas, the gem of Gonzaga’s 2014 recruiting class. Indubitably Perkins plays immediately, as he will probably serve as Pangos’ backup. The four-star pure point guard gives fans a front row seat to the future of the program, choosing Gonzaga over Minnesota and UCLA. Graduate of Regis Jesuit in Denver, Perkins spent a fifth year at Huntington Prep. It does not go much further beyond the fact that Perkins is an extremely gifted passer, talented scorer, and will certainly be a part of the rotation next year.
G-Silas Melson (Fr.): An off-guard with a jumper to compliment Perkins, and a member of the backcourt of the future, Melson is a 5A state champion, and Oregon Gatorade player of the year. The 6’3” scorer was a part of the talented wave of Jefferson High School players that came directly after now NBA players Terrence Ross and Terrence Jones left their stamp. Melson was not highly recruited, only receiving offers from Oregon State, Washington, and Portland, so Few may have stolen a diamond in the rough of his own. Melson will likely be in the rotation and should serve well as a combo guard in the second unit. On Apr. 26, Melson stole the show representing the Oregon all-star team at the Northwest Shootout torching the Washington all-stars for 40 points, 5 dimes, and 5 steals.
PF/C-Domantas Sabonis (Fr.): The 6’10” son of NBA great Arvedas Sabonis was a late nab from the Spanish League, and such a huge nab at that. A proficient and composed post scorer, Sabonis was born in Portland during his father’s time with the Trail Blazers, but grew up in Lithuania spending his youth with the Unicaja Malaga junior team. Although unproven, he brings the much-needed interior support that last year’s squad lacked behind Dower and Karnowski. Now with Wiltjer assuming Dower’s spot, Sabonis will surely need to bang down low on defense and on the glass.
G-Bryan Alberts (Fr.): The 6’5’’ guard who can play any guard position will bring athleticism, scoring and overall great talent to GU’s young and insanely talented reserve backcourt. At Village Christian in Sun Valley, CA he averaged 16.7 points, 4.2 assists, and 4.5 boards per game in three years. He is not a great shooter, but will get defenders to respect his both jumper and ability to drive. I am not sure where he will land in the rotation, but by all means the freshman guards will compete for playing time–definitely not a bad problem to have.
A second and third unit easily more talented than last year’s poses to aid a talented and complete starting lineup.