'We back.' Gonzaga posts photo before transfer portal deadline confirming return of four starters, six rotation players

May 1—As the transfer portal closed for college basketball players on Wednesday night, the best news for Gonzaga fans was no news at all.

The school's creative team put any last-minute concerns to rest with a group photo posted to the Gonzaga basketball social media accounts roughly 10 minutes before the 8:59 p.m. PT deadline for players to file paperwork and enter their name in the transfer portal.

Taken from Gonzaga's locker room at McCarthey Athletic Center, the photo consisted of 10 returning players all donned in the popular blue throwback Nike uniforms the Bulldogs wore during a Jan. 6 home game against San Diego while honoring the school's 1998-99 Cinderella team that advanced to the Elite Eight.

Underneath the photo, an accompanying caption read "We back."

The social media post confirmed what most have suspected since many of Gonzaga's rotation players implied they'd be back in Spokane next season moments after losing to national runner-up in the Sweet 16 at Little Caesars Arena in Detroit.

Even so, the offseason always comes with a bit of trepidation in an era where players have become increasingly more likely to enter the transfer portal, explore NIL possibilities at other schools or enter the NBA Draft.

Aside from fifth-year forward Anton Watson, whose eligibility expired after the 2023-24 season, nobody from Gonzaga's core rotation expressed interest in the transfer portal or testing NBA Draft waters, and six of Mark Few's top seven scorers from last season appeared in the photo that quickly matriculated through Zag social media circles Wednesday night.

Standing in the center of the back row was Graham Ike, the All-West Coast Conference forward who averaged 16.5 points and 7.4 rebounds in his first season at Gonzaga. Flanking Ike was starting forward Ben Gregg (9.0 ppg, 5.7 rpg) and productive reserve forward Braden Huff (9.3 ppg, 3.4 rpg), who earned WCC All-Freshman honors last season.

Sophomore forward Jun Seok Yeo, who averaged 7.9 points in 25 appearances, stood on one end of the second row while Steele Venters, the Eastern Washington sharpshooter and former Big Sky Player of the Year who missed last season with an ACL injury, occupied the other.

Sitting in three folding chairs situated across the front row were starting guards Ryan Nembhard (12.6 ppg, 6.9 apg) and Nolan Hickman (14.0 ppg, 2.6 apg), along with Dusty Stromer, who averaged 4.8 ppg and 3.8 rpg while starting in 15 of 35 games as a freshman.

The photo also included returning walk-on guard Joe Few, the son of GU's head coach, and freshman Joaquim ArauzMoore.

Gregg shared the photo on X with a caption that read "Grass is pretty green over here in Spokane," followed by a winking emoji.

Gonzaga assistant Stephen Gentry also retweeted the post, writing "We! Collective force."

With the expectation they'd bring back four of their five starters in Ike, Gregg, Nembhard and Hickman, along with top reserves Huff and Stromer, the Zags have already been tabbed as a preseason top-10 team in most way-too-early polls

Venters, who tore his ACL during a practice two days before the season opener against Yale, told The Spokesman-Review he expects to be back to full basketball activities by the end of the summer and Gonzaga already made one big move in the transfer portal by signing Pepperdine wing Michael Ajayi, who led the WCC in scoring and was second in rebounding last season.

The departure of Watson and two reserve players to the transfer portal — guard Luka Krajnovic and forward Pavle Stosic — leaves Gonzaga with four open scholarships. The Bulldogs only utilized 11 of their 13 scholarships last season, but are expected to make a few more additions before the 2024-25 season begins.

One possibility is Arkansas guard transfer Khalif Battle, who averaged 14.8 points per game last season for the Razorbacks, including 29.5 points over the final seven games. Battle, who'll be a sixth-year senior in 2024-25, is taking an official visit to Gonzaga this weekend, a source confirmed to The Spokesman-Review on Wednesday.