If Gonzaga yet again can't escape the first weekend of the NCAA tournament next March, there are going to be some disappointed fans in the Pacific Northwest.
Expectations continue to soar for the Zags this offseason thanks to the addition of some key transfers to an already loaded roster.
Eric McClellan, who led Vanderbilt in scoring last season before being dismissed from the team in January, announced Sunday he is transferring to Gonzaga. The 6-foot-4 slashing wing is the second key transfer the Zags have added in the backcourt in recent weeks, joining former USC leading scorer Byron Wesley.
McClellan told the Spokane Spokesman-Review he needs to complete three classes this summer in order to ensure he'll be eligible at the end of fall semester in mid-December. The rising junior also intends to apply for a waiver, meaning there is a chance he could play for the Zags right away in November if it is granted.
Gonzaga is taking a mild risk on McClellan given his off-the-court issues at Vanderbilt. Coach Kevin Stallings suspended McClellan for the rest of the season in early January due to an unspecified academic issue. The suspension turned into an outright dismissal from school days later when the Tennesseean revealed McClellan had previously been arrested for misdemeanor theft.
That the likes of Gonzaga, UNLV, UCLA and Missouri were interested in McClellan despite those issues is a testament to his ability. The Texas native averaged 14.3 points, 4.4 rebounds and 3.2 assists in 12 games this past season, though he shot a dreadful 18.2 percent from behind the arc and turned it over too frequently as well.
Assuming McClellan can cut down his turnovers and elevate his 3-point shooting back to the 38 percent he shot as a freshman at Tulsa, Gonzaga is adding another quality piece to an already loaded perimeter corps. Three-year starters Kevin Pangos and Gary Bell return at point guard and shooting guard, with Wesley expected to out-duel top reserve Kyle Draginis for the starting nod at the third perimeter spot.
It's difficult to imagine McClellan starting over either Bell or Wesley next season, but it's also difficult to imagine him not carving out a significant spot in the rotation.
Seven times in the last eight seasons, Gonzaga has made the NCAA tournament only to lose during the opening weekend. With the core of an NCAA tournament team returning, a heralded recruiting class arriving and Wesley and McClellan addressing Gonzaga's need for high-major length, quickness and athleticism on the wing, perhaps this is the season the Zags finally enjoy a March breakthrough.
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