Gonzaga’s new starting backcourt may be unfamiliar with The Kennel, but they’re not unfamiliar with one another.
Ryan Woolridge and Admon Gilder are GU’s two graduate transfers for this season, and their paths have crossed before.
“Admon and I have a long history playing together,” said Woolridge, a 6-foot-3 guard from Mansfield, Texas. “Being on the same AAU team and playing against each other during that time too, so we kind of knew each other already. The history is there.”
Gilder is from Dallas, which is only a 35-minute drive from Woolridge’s hometown.
Woolridge was a standout at Lake Ridge High School, where he averaged 17.3 points, 6.1 assists and 3.3 steals per game during his senior year and was chosen to play in the 2015 Metroplex24 High School All–Star Game.
Playing opposite of him on the game’s Red Team was none other than Admon Gilder. Gilder was the 2015 Gatorade Texas Player of the Year, and was touted as a four-star recruit by both ESPN and 247Sports.
“[Admon and I] are going to have high expectations for one another,” Woolridge told SB Nation. “Seeing as we are both from the same state, we got to bring some Texas energy to Spokane. We can’t let our people back home down.”
Both Gilder and Woolridge stayed in their home state of Texas for their collegiate career.
Gilder attended Texas A&M for four years, and played in 98 games for the Aggies throughout his three seasons of play. He put up a total of 247 assists and 1,055 points during his time at A&M, and is the 37th member of the program’s 1,000 point club.
In Gilder’s sophomore year, the only year that he played and started every game for A&M, Gilder totaled 130 assists and 60 steals, while averaging 13.7 points per game.
While fighting off various injuries during his junior year that kept him from starting consistently and even sidelined him for a handful of games that season, Gilder managed to have the highest shooting percentages of his career from the field, the free-throw line and behind the arc, all while racking up a career-high 126 rebounds.
Woolridge, despite originally attending the University of San Diego, transferred to University of Northern Texas halfway through what would have been freshman season so he could be closer to home.
After redshirting that entire season to retain four years of athletic eligibility, Woolridge got to play in 21 games and start in 12 during the 2016–17 season.
Throughout the next three years, Woolridge gained a reputation as a guard who could push the pace with his speed and passing ability on offense, and could slow the other team down with his attentiveness on defense. He dished out 433 career assists and snagged 150 steals in that time, both of which rank second in UNT history.
“Really good,” a college scout said about Woolridge, according to basketball analyst Jeff Goodman on Twitter. “Elite speed, great defender on ball and off. Guys like playing with him because he’ll find [the] open guy. Good finisher.”
Last season for UNT, Woolridge averaged 1.9 steals per game and eclipsed 1,000 career points, achieving the end of the year honors of third team all–conference.
Both Woolridge and Gilder came to GU while on the road to recovery, as both were getting over health issues that kept them off the court for an extended period of time.
Woolridge had postseason surgery on his patella to repair a stress fracture and he wasn’t fully cleared to play until mid–September because of it.
“This team has been 100% for me,” Woolridge said. “I had my surgery six to seven months ago and I’m already back playing. It’s just a constant grind but it will all be more than worth it in the end.”
Gilder was diagnosed with a blood clot in his right arm just as last season had tipped off, so he sat out the entirety of what would have been his senior year at Texas A&M after having a rib removed in surgery, and utilized his still available redshirt status for that season so that he could then subsequently transfer.
“It’s an everyday process,” Gilder said. “In the huddle, we’re always talking about one day at a time and that’s my main focus.”
Both of their journeys back onto the court, coming back from such drastic setbacks, are made especially impressive when you realize that they’re doing it all while being integrated into an entirely different system.
“[Woolridge and Gilder] are improving weekly, just sort of learning what our expectations are for them,” head coach Mark Few said. “How we defend is different from their other schools. And what we’re doing on offense is vastly different from what they were accustomed to doing. They’re starting to make the proper reads which I know can be hard with how we play.”
It’s no secret that the way that Few runs his program is much less individualized and more team-based than a majority of other universities out there, but he signed his new starting backcourt knowing that they were capable of playing his style of basketball.
Few pursued Gilder from early on in the transfer recruiting process, knowing that Gilder’s own past experience in the Sweet 16 in 2016 and 2018 would be a huge contribution to a GU squad that had just come off a deep run into the playoffs last season and were hoping to make a return.
“If you look at my resume as a fifth-year senior, I’ve performed at all different levels of competition, I’ve been able to make it to the tournament,” Gilder said. “I can go out there and bring my experience and my energy on the defensive and offensive ends, and then everything takes care of itself.”
The Zags originally hoped to pair Gilder up with USC grad transfer Derryck Thornton in the backcourt, but after he signed with Boston College, they swooped in on Woolridge. Woolridge was brought in for a visit a week after Thornton dropped GU, and he proceeded to commit on June 23.
“I mean, it’s Gonzaga,” Woolridge said to KREM2 right after he signed. “If Gonzaga calls, you listen. I just wanted to hear them out and see what they were talking about. The coaches don’t lie to me. They told me straightforward what was on the table. What the roster looked like and all that stuff. It was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up.”
Not only is it an opportunity they couldn’t pass up, but it’s one that both Gilder and Woolridge have capitalized on.
Both started Tuesday’s season opener against Alabama State, Gilder tallying 12 points, a steal and assist and Woolridge nearly matching him with 11 points and six assists. The duo brings a more defense oriented mindset to a Zags backcourt that has been predominantly offensive driven for the past number of years.
“Those guys exceed really well on the defensive end,” Corey Kispert told The Athletic. “I think these guys are gonna lead our team and help us get up in the ranks of the country as far as steals go because they can really get after it.”
With what these two new faces bring with both their experience and talent, it’s hard not to imagine the Zags getting right back to where they were last year results wise.
It will be a different look for this year’s team for sure, but with change comes the potential for even greater success.
After all, it’s GU, a program that prides itself on it’s winning culture, and neither of these two transfers would’ve chosen to become a Zag if it wasn’t for the most integral part of the team’s culture.
“Winning, that was the most important thing to me when transferring, and I think if you look at all these banners that are up here, this program has been winning for 20 years,” Gilder said. “That’s the thing I’m all about. When I came on my visit, the basketball atmosphere here was amazing, coming from a football school, I just wanted to go somewhere where I could really enjoy my last year.”