How Colgate transfer Braeden Smith went from skeptical to comfortable with redshirting at Gonzaga

May 25—Braeden Smith's résumé caught the eye of plenty of programs when he entered his name in the transfer portal.

Smith helped Colgate to a pair of regular-season titles — by six games each year — and two Patriot League Tournament titles — five of the six tourney wins by at least 17 points — in his two seasons. The 6-foot point guard was voted Patriot League Player of the Year and tournament MVP last season while putting up 12.5 points, 5.6 assists and 5.5 rebounds.

"It was crazy, more than I was expecting, honestly," said Smith, who heard from numerous power conference programs, including Duke.

Gonzaga's approach was different than the others. The Zags' depth chart was pretty much set with four returning senior starters, including the backcourt of Ryan Nembhard and Nolan Hickman, six of the top seven in the rotation back and the addition of three transfers, including 6-5 guards/wings Khalif Battle and Emmanuel Innocenti.

GU was interested in Smith but told the Seattle native up front it wanted him to redshirt for the upcoming season with the Zags' senior-heavy roster and then have two seasons of eligibility remaining.

"When (assistant) coach (Stephen) Gentry called me, he shot it straight: 'We have a unique opportunity, we think you'd benefit from this redshirt idea,' " Smith said. "At first, of course wanting to play, I was not expecting that pitch."

Redshirting typically isn't the preferred path for prominent recruits and transfers seeking significant and immediate court time. Lack of playing time is one reason why players enter the portal, though definitely not in Smith's case as a two-year starter averaging over 30 minutes per game.

"It kind of turned me off a little bit to begin with," Smith said, "but thinking about it some more and praying on it, I wanted to learn more about the program and the plan with this redshirt idea."

Gonzaga had plenty to pitch on those fronts. The Zags haven't missed an NCAA Tournament in coach Mark Few's 25 seasons. Transfers and redshirts have thrived. Player development has been a cornerstone.

Kelly Olynyk is the gold standard, redshirting after his sophomore season and becoming an All-American when he returned. Joel Ayayi made big strides during his redshirt year and the seasons that followed. Rising sophomore forward Braden Huff was a key contributor last season following a redshirt year.

Smith, a philosophy major at Colgate, kept an open mind.

"They started listing them off. It's a long list, longer than I imagined," Smith said. "That was another positive thing about my (recent) visit. They broke down the plan, pretty specifically, making sure to leave no stone unturned and what the future looks like."

Smith had visited Davidson and California, the latter right before he and his dad arrived Monday in Spokane. Smith called his two years at Colgate "incredible" and he also considered returning to the school in Hamilton, New York. Smith was fairly certain Gonzaga would be his choice after visiting.

"It's a top program in the country," Smith said. "On my visit, they displayed the stabilization of the program. Coaches are there for a long time, players coming back and being around and part of the community. It looked like a top-notch culture."

After discussing it for a few days with his parents, Smith committed Friday to Gonzaga. Obviously, that meant being comfortable with redshirting.

"The more conversations I had with the coaches, I started to look at it differently," Smith said. "Looking at it from a development standpoint rather than a sitting-out standpoint."

Smith expects to be in Spokane in early June for summer school. His immediate goals are "being a better finisher around the rim, layups, floaters, and keep working my shot, catch and shoot and off the dribble and being a consistent knock-down shooter."

Smith made nearly 50% of his career attempts inside the arc, 33% on 3-pointers and 80.6% at the foul line. He ranked 28th nationally in assists per game (5.6), tied for 39th with 66 steals and 62nd in assist-to-turnover ratio (2.42).

Smith wasn't on the Patriot League all-defensive team despite leading the league in steals on the top-ranked defense while averaging 5.2 defensive rebounds per game. He ranked second in the Patriot League in defensive rebounding behind Navy's Donovan Draper (6.2). Forward Graham Ike led GU last season at 5.0 defensive boards per game.

Gonzaga practices should be highly competitive this fall. On facing Nembhard and Hickman daily in practice, Smith said, "They're going to make me better and I'm going to try to make them better. Iron sharpens iron."

Smith acknowledged it'll be "really hard" sitting on the bench during games next season.

"I am looking forward to working and being part of one of the better teams in the country," he said. "I think I'll learn a lot and see things from a different perspective."