With the core of an NCAA tournament team returning and a heralded recruiting class set to arrive this fall, Gonzaga already appeared formidable enough to run away with the WCC title and perhaps make the deep March run that has eluded the program in recent years.
The transfer that Mark Few added over the weekend will only increase expectations.
Gonzaga received a commitment from wing Byron Wesley, a three-year starter at USC who averaged a team-high 17.8 points and 6.4 rebounds this past season. Wesley, who chose Gonzaga over Pittsburgh, Oklahoma State and a host of other high-major programs, is on pace to earn his psychology degree from USC this summer and would not have to sit out a season if he is able to graduate.
The addition of Wesley is a tremendous coup for Gonzaga because the 6-foot-5 senior potentially shores up a traditional area of weakness for the Zags. Few has developed many skilled big men and quality guards, but Gonzaga has often lacked a small forward with high-major athleticism who is capable of both creating his own shot on offense and guarding the opposing team's top perimeter threat defensively.
Put Wesley into a Gonzaga backcourt that already includes three-year starters Kevin Pangos and Gary Bell, and the Zags now have a sweet-shooting senior point guard and two wings who can sink open shots, attack the rim and defend opposing perimeter threats. Highly touted freshman point guard Josh Perkins will provide depth behind Pangos and junior Kyle Dranginis will play plenty of minutes off the bench behind Wesley and Bell at wing.
Experienced and deep as that backcourt is, it's possible the frontcourt will be Gonzaga's biggest strength next season.
Though forward Sam Dower graduates this spring, 7-foot NBA prospect Przemek Karnowski returns to try to build off a strong finish to his sophomore year and 6-foot-9 Kentucky transfer Kyle Wiltjer becomes eligible after spending a redshirt year addressing the deficiencies in his game. Freshman Domantas Sabonis, the son of former Portland Trailblazers star Arvydas Sabonis, also arrives this fall and is expected to make an impact right away.
It's Gonzaga's rich tradition and abundance of talent next season that sold Wesley on the Zags.
Not only had USC not made the NCAA tournament any of his three seasons, Wesley also did not experience a conference tournament victory as a Trojan. With USC likely to rely mostly on freshmen next season in year two under Andy Enfield, Wesley chose to take advantage of the graduate transfer rule and look elsewhere for a program where he could both play in the NCAA tournament and contribute to the team's success.
Gonzaga is clearly a good fit for both of those goals.
Without Wesley, the Zags were still a preseason top 20 team and a clear-cut favorite in the WCC. With him, Gonzaga does not have an obvious weakness and could easily begin next season in the top 10.
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