The NBA's lackluster opinion of forward Drew Timme's skills has bolstered Gonzaga's national championship aspirations.
The No. 2 Bulldogs are aiming to reach the title game for the third time in the last six NCAA Tournaments and begin their pursuit when they face North Florida on Monday night at Spokane, Wash.
Gonzaga wasn't betting on having Timme back after he was West Coast Conference Player of the Year and a second-team All-American last season.
But Timme went through the draft process and weighed his options. The consensus from scouts evaluating his draft status ranked Timme from middle of second round to possibly undrafted. That feedback led Timme to run the comeback route to chase another deep postseason run with Gonzaga.
Gonzaga (28-4) advanced to the title game two seasons ago before falling to Baylor. Last season, the Bulldogs were knocked out by Arkansas in the Sweet 16.
Timme, a preseason All-American, enters his fourth college season ranked 15th in both points (1,521) and rebounds (617) in Gonzaga history.
The Bulldogs lost center Chet Holmgren and point guard Andrew Nembhard to the NBA but forward Julian Strawther (11.8 points per game) and guard Rasir Bolton (11.2), who also tested the draft waters, are back to team with Timme (18.4). Bolton (64) and Strawther (54) are potent 3-point shooting threats.
"This team has a chance to do something special," Timme said in October.
Gonzaga also fared well on the transfer market as it landed guard Malachi Smith, who started for Chattanooga and earned Southern Conference Player of the Year honors last season. Smith averaged 19.9 points and 6.7 rebounds last season.
The Bulldogs also landed a 7-footer in LSU transfer Efton Reid, who averaged 6.3 points and 4.3 rebounds a season ago.
Gonzaga coach Mark Few put Timme and Reid on the floor together at some points during a 99-80 exhibition loss to Tennessee on Oct. 28.
"They had some moments," Few said afterward. "Obviously, we're going to have to guard better when they're in there and we should have better rim protection, but we didn't have good rim protection. That's what the bigs are supposed to bring. Obviously, that's one area we can get definite improvement on."
North Florida went 11-20 last season and has just one winning campaign in the past six seasons.
The Ospreys are led by forward Carter Hendricksen and guard Jose Placer, who are members of the preseason All-ASUN team. Hendricksen averaged 12.2 points and 5.0 rebounds last season but was limited to 22 games due to an elbow injury.
A hand injury led to Placer seeing action in only 23 games. He averaged 14.7 points and 2.8 assists.
"Carter Hendricksen and Jose Placer have put a lot of time into their craft over the years," North Florida coach Matthew Driscoll said. "Both student-athletes possess a unique ability to score, especially from long range and also around the rim. They do this while also getting others shot opportunities, a quality that separates them from most players."
The Ospreys also return forward Jadyn Parker, who averaged 8.3 points, 5.1 rebounds and accumulated 49 blocked shots. Guard Jarius Hicklen averaged 12 points as a part-time starter and knocked down a team-best 87 3-point shots.
This will be the first meeting between these basketball programs.
–Field Level Media