Postseason: NCAA: Defeated Winthrop 74–64, lost to Texas Tech 71–69 in the second round
Evreux, France/Midland (TX) JC
Berkeley, CA/St. Mary’s
Pargo comes in as perhaps the most highly-touted recruit in school history. He is a thick-bodied point guard described by Few as “an unbelievable athlete.” Gurganious is a slasher type who can also play small forward. Diallo figures to be the backup to Batista in the post.
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Kids grow up in the strangest and, sometimes, most delightful ways. Gonzaga coach Mark Few can attest to that after watching last year's young Bulldogs weather the loss of five seniors and a torturous non-conference schedule to win another West Coast Conference title and earn a seventh consecutive trip to the NCAA Tournament.
The Zags bounced back from a humiliating 89-72 early-season loss to Illinois to knock off such national powers as Washington, Oklahoma State and Georgia Tech. Last year's Zags, built around senior center Ronny Turiaf, finished the season with a 26-5 record, continued their dominance of the WCC and remained among the elite programs in the nation.
J.P. Batista turned out to be the low-post beast the Bulldogs desperately needed to take some pressure off Turiaf. The junior college transfer from Brazil averaged 12.4 points and 6.2 rebounds despite not becoming a starter until midseason. Now he must now deal with the increased attention of opposing defenses.
It is imperative that Sean Mallon bounce back from last year's midseason swoon that cost him his starting job.
"We really need Sean to step up and play the way he was playing early in the year," Few says. "At times, he was our best player. But throughout the second half of the season, he seemed to wear down. We've got to figure out a way to keep him fresh."
It will help if redshirt freshman Josh Heytvelt proves to be as good as advertised. According to Few, the 6-11, 217-pounder has "as big an upside as any big man we've ever recruited." But consistency will probably be an issue.
"He just turned 18, so he's still really young," Few says, "He's extremely talented and extremely skilled, but some days at practice he does amazing things and some days he doesn't do anything."
And the addition of junior college transfer Mamery Diallo will give the Zags another big body - and five more fouls to use - on the low blocks.
At 6-8 and with a high release point on his jump shot, leading-scorer Adam Morrison is as difficult to defend as any shooting guard in the country. By the end of last season, the hometown hero had taken over as the Zags' go-to guy, leaving the talented Turiaf as just one of several secondary offensive options.
"Adam simply knows how to score," Few says. "It was obvious as the season went on last year that his presence was felt more and more. And both he and Derek have had tremendous offseasons, so we look for them both to be really improved."
This season, Morrison will once again be the Zags' primary scoring option and could emerge as one of the country's top players. He is the latest in a long line of Gonzaga stars.
Derek Raivio entered last season as perhaps the biggest mystery on the roster. The slight point guard answered every question that had been raised about his lack of size and strength by averaging 13 points and a WCC-best 4.81 assists. He ranked among the most accurate 3-point shooters in the league and finished with an impressive 2.26-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio.
The Zags' backcourt is bolstered by senior wing Erroll Knight, the WCC's reigning Defensive Player of the Year, and senior shooting guard Nathan Doudney, who returns after having his junior year cut short by a knee injury.
In addition, the Bulldogs return sophomores David Pendergraft and Pierre Altidor-Cespedes and welcome freshman Jeremy Pargo, who could make an impact in the guard rotation.
Last season was supposed to be the year the rest of the West Coast Conference caught up with Gonzaga. But the Bulldogs reloaded in impressive fashion and now, with a roster stocked with experienced and talented underclassmen, seem well-equipped to continue their WCC dominance.
The Zags could be better at every position than every team in their league. If Morrison & Co. stay healthy, the Zags could make another deep run in the NCAAs.