Over the years, Gonzaga men’s basketball has emerged as one of the top programs in the country. The small Jesuit university in Spokane has morphed into a basketball city, and The Kennel and the rest of the GU fan base was excited to see their team compete once again for their first national championship.
Unfortunately, that chance has been delayed another year, as concerns surrounding the coronavirus pandemic led to the NCAA canceling the tournament altogether.
It's no secret that an abundance of great players have crossed the helm of The Kennel over the years. They now play professionally all over the world, including in the NBA. A few have competed in the Olympics.
With no tournament to cover, and all other spring sports being canceled as well, Gonzaga Bulletin sports writers are itching to get their juices flowing again. The free time has lead us to wonder "who would be the greatest, most successful, combination of GU men's basketball players of all time?"
TEAM 1: Cole Forsman, staff writer
PG: John Stockton, SG: Adam Morrison, SF: Rui Hachimura, PF: Kelly Olynyk, C: Domantas Sabonis, sixth man: Frank Burgess
Trying to construct a roster featuring the greatest Zags of all-time was easier than anticipated.
With greats such as Stockton and Morrison being easy selections, it was the frontcourt that proved to be a challenge. Hachimura’s outstanding All-American junior season speaks for itself.
But GU has a longstanding history of having great big men who could have made this starting lineup; Ronny Turiaf, Robert Sacre, Przemek Karnowski, Brandon Clarke, the list goes on.
But ultimately, the impact that both Olynyk and Sabonis had as leaders of very talented GU teams earned them a spot on the roster.
In Olynyk’s junior year he led the Zags to the program’s first number one overall seed in the NCAA tournament while being elected an All-American. A few years later, Sabonis led an underdog GU team to the Sweet Sixteen before being picked 11th overall in the 2016 NBA Draft.
With a career average of 28.2 points per game in college, Burgess was truly the most talented Zag ever until Stockton arrived two decades later. In his junior season, the guard led the NCAA in scoring with 32.3 points per game in the 1960-61 season and earned a spot on the All-American second team.
TEAM 2: Ian Davis-Leonard, copy editor
PG: John Stockton, SG: Dan Dickau, SF: Adam Morrison, PF: Brandon Clarke, C: Przemek Karnowski, sixth man: Kyle Wiltjer
John Stockton is the ideal way to start any team. While I didn’t have the pleasure to watch the point guard dazzle during his Hall of Fame career, it is a no-brainer that he leads an all-time GU line-up.
Averaging 20.1 points a game while dishing out 5.3 assists, UW-escapee Dan Dickau makes the line-up despite doubling up on point guards in this hypothetical backcourt.As a senior, Dickau earned first team All-American honors guiding GU’s offense and scoring from inside and outside the 3-point line.
Adam Morrison was also an easy choice. Drafted No. 3 overall in 2006 after a season in which he was the collegiate men’s basketball co-player of the year, Morrison put GU on the map in the 21st century. His shaggy hair and tight mustache were iconic, and his 28 points per game during his junior season speaks for itself.
Recency bias may be Brandon Clarke’s friend, but during his one year on the court at GU the freakish forward left a legacy. Blocking as many shots as he missed in 2018-19, Clarke’s nearly 17 points per game and 8.6 rebounds paled in comparison to his dominating defensive talent.
The Polish big man may be a controversial pick, but Przemek Karnowski, the NCAA Division-I and GU all time career wins leader, was an easy choice for me. While his 9.8 points per game and 5.4 rebound average won’t blow you away, Karnowski was a staple in the middle of the paint for half a decade, dishing out no-look dimes and sending back misguided opponents.
Give me the 2017 Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Award winner to round out my starting five. In two years in Bulldog blue and red, Kyle Wiltjer averaged 18.4 points, grabbed 6.3 rebounds and shot 45% from beyond the 3-point line on nearly five shots per game as a forward. He was a consensus All-American during his senior year and with his ability to stretch the floor from the four-position, Wiltjer was something special.
TEAM 3: Jackson Frank, managing and digital editor
PG: John Stockton, SG: Nigel Williams-Goss, SF: Adam Morrison, PF: Brandon Clarke, C: Kelly Olynyk, sixth man: Killian Tillie
This wasn’t a particularly difficult exercise for me. John Stockton, Adam Morrison and Brandon Clarke were all first-ballot picks, and a pair of All-Americans in Nigel Williams-Goss and Kelly Olynyk rounded out my starting quintet.
The sixth man role came down to Killian Tillie vs. Kyle Wiltjer, and I opted for the better defender, Tillie, to help fortify the backline with Clarke. I have a badgering point-of-attack defender in Stockton and elite rim protector in Clarke. Tillie and Morrison provide complementary floor-spacing. Williams-Goss, Stockton and Morrison can all orchestrate offense from the perimeter in various capacities. Olynyk and Tillie are versatile offensive bigs.
I’m a huge fan of this six-man roster, with its malleable offensive and defensive players, and the opportunity to adapt to a variety of opponents. There’s shooting, playmaking and a whole lot of intelligence on both sides of the ball. Those are valuable ingredients for success.
TEAM 4: Connor Gilbert, sports editor
PG: Kevin Pangos, SG: Blake Stepp, SF: Adam Morrison, PF: Ronny Turiaf, C: Kelly Olynyk, sixth man: Rui Hachimura
I created my team based on the players who I think meant the most to the program's trajectory. Firstly, Pangos over Stockton obviously is a bit strange, but the Canadian sharpshooter presided over one of the program’s most successful four-year runs in history. His shooting and incredible IQ steady any team he leads.
I also can’t think of a GU player more underrated than Stepp, who led the 2004 Zags to a gaudy 28-3 record and a final regular season ranking of No. 3 in the country, starting all but two games in his 128-game career. A backcourt comprised of those two makes great decisions with the ball, threatening with high-percentage shooting that allows bigs to get involved.
As the program’s only USWBA Player of the Year in history, Morrison's ability to find his own shot and intense competitiveness finds him an automatic spot on any team.
When I think of big men, Ronny Turiaf comes to mind as well. His recruitment to GU and ensuing four-year career were crucial turning points for the program — Tommy Lloyd’s international recruiting pipeline truly began in earnest after landing the 6’10 Frenchman.
It's hard to believe that before Olynyk’s one-year transformation, he almost transferred to play somewhere else. Averaging 17.8 points and 7.3 rebounds per game, Olynyk led the Zags to their first one-seed in history and became a first team All-American as one of the program's most skilled big men of all time.
Off the bench, you can't forget about Rui. Hachimura’s three-year journey in Spokane saw the nature of his game shift from raw potential to transcendence in a way that rarely happens in the college game. We saw flashes of dominance late in his sophomore year, but once the Japanese native hit his stride his junior year, he was the nation's best at his position.
TEAM 5: Vinny Saglimbeni, sports editor
PG: John Stockton, SG: Adam Morrison, SF: Rui Hachimura, PF: Domantas Sabonis, C: Killian Tillie, sixth man: Corey Kispert
John Stockton and Adam Morrison were essentially locks when creating this team of all-time Zags. I feel comfortable putting the 2006 co-National Player of the Year in my backcourt with the all-time NBA assists leader, with Morrison essentially playing like Kevin Durant and shooting over anyone who guards him, if he wasn’t already getting buckets against defenders his size.
Having a sea of frontcourt talent like GU made it a bit difficult for my selections, but the size and skill of my frontcourt were too much for me to turn down. Hachimura’s ability to score in multiple ways makes him the perfect offensive threat for any team, and his size at 6-feet-8-inches allows for him to cut off passing lanes and possess a defensive presence.
Sabonis’ versatility on both sides of the floor gives me that solid, consistent player that everyone dreams of. In regards to Tillie, although he suffered injuries throughout his GU career, Tillie is one of the best basketball players in the country, and his ability to stretch the floor, find passes and block shots made it hard for me to consider anyone else.
This may come as a shock to some, but Corey Kispert as my sixth man gives me great size defensively and great shooting ability coming off the bench. When Kispert gets hot and locked into the game, he is one of the most dangerous threats in college basketball.