Nembhard feature, will change later

In his first year at GU, Nembhard earned WCC Sixth Man of the Year while averaging almost nine points and 4.1 assists a game. 

Just two days before the season-opener against the then No. 6 Kansas Jayhawks guard Andrew Nembhard was granted a transfer waiver that made him immediately eligible to play for the Zags.

Prior to suiting up against the defending Big 12 champs and reigning national defensive player of the year Marcus Garrett, Nembhard was practicing with the walk-ons as a member of the scout team. Nembhard proved his mettle in his debut to the Zag faithful, scoring 11 points and dishing out three assists in 32 minutes of play.

As the season rolls along for the Bulldogs, Nembhard is a key contributor for a squad that averages over 93 points per game, the best in the nation.

Nembhard started all 67 games he played as a University of Florida Gator, which was last accomplished by three-time NBA All-Star Bradley Beal the 2011-12 season.

Upon transferring to GU, Nembhard found himself competing for minutes in a crowded backcourt including Jalen Suggs, Joel Ayayi and fellow transfer Aaron Cook from Southern Illinois.

“It’s really not a big difference, I’m playing a similar amount of minutes. I feel like I contribute to this team as much as anybody else,” Nembhard said. “With the way we play and how versatile we are I can come in and do a few different things whether it’s scoring or passing. I think the role is different but it is something that I can excel in, honestly.”

Nembhard was at one point leading in assists for the Zags while chipping in the fifth most points and minutes despite coming off the bench in a majority of contests early in the season. Since starting against BYU, Nembhard has become a mainstay in the starting lineup after trading spots with new sixth-man Anton Watson following a late season adjustment from head coach Mark Few.

Highly touted  coming out of high school powerhouse Monteverde Academy in Orlando, Florida, Nembhard was rated as a five-star recruit and one of the best passers in his recruiting class after winning a national championship as a senior.

Although GU draws talent from across the globe, Monteverde Academy is the well the Bulldogs continue to draw from. Former Zag Filip Petrusev played with Nembhard at Monteverde and played a small part in making him feel comfortable transferring. 

“I definitely was in contact with [Petrusev] when I was in the transfer portal and talked about how he liked it over here,” Nembhard said. “We’re really cool from my years at my Montverde.”

An aspect that was more instrumental in luring the former SEC assist/turnover ratio leader was assistant coach Tommy Lloyd. Lloyd’s reputation as an international man of mystery grows in direct relation to the ascension of the GU program. Lloyd is credited with recruiting foreign stars like Przemek Karnowski and Kelly Olynyk that graced the floor of The Kennel over the years.

Like Olynyk, Nembhard is originally from Canada, specifically Aurora, Ontario. He grew up playing basketball and soccer under the watchful eye of his coach and father Claude Nembhard.

“My dad was a basketball coach before I was even born," Nembhard said. "He coached me my whole career, basically until the 10th grade. He kind of introduced me to basketball. I started when I was 3 years old and ever since then I’ve been hooping.”

Lloyd originally recruited and formed a relationship with Nembhard as a high school prospect before he chose the University of Florida.

“As soon as I went to the [transfer] portal I called him and stopped and asked him if there was a spot on the team,” Nembhard said. “He’s been really cool and he’s been instrumental in getting me to come to Gonzaga. I have a lot of confidence in his ability to make guys better.”

Nembhard transferred despite a successful sophomore campaign with the Gators in which he averaged 11.2 points, 5.6 assists and 3.0 rebounds per game while leading the team in minutes and making the NCAA tournament each year.

“I just needed a change for myself and the fit wasn’t right for me at Florida,” Nembhard said.

From afar, the 6-foot-5-inch guard viewed the Zags up-tempo offensive scheme as the perfect match to his play style. 

“The way we play so fast and get the ball moving with a lot of different decision-makers on the floor plays to my advantage,” Nembhard said.

Illustrating how difficult it is to defend the Zags potent offensive barrage is a motion offense instituted by Few that empowers his players to read the defense and react.

“It’s more of us reading the game and less of a play. I think that’s the most fun I have playing basketball,” Nembhard said.

Although Nembhard enjoys the family-feel of his teammates, coaches and campus, he didn’t just come to Spokane to run fun offensive sets. He didn’t sugarcoat the goals for himself and his team.

“As a team our main goal is definitely to win a national championship," Nembhard said. "For myself, it is to help impact winning the most and keep bringing what I have to the table and see how much I can help this team.”

Lofty expectations for this year’s iteration of the Bulldogs run rampant in college basketball media as the landscape is largely viewed as GU and Baylor versus the field. The Zags have earned the respect of the nation by beating four teams ranked in the AP top 25 and debuting as the overall No. 1 seed in the first release of the NCAA NET rankings, edging Baylor.

How’d they get here? Although the Zags have an average margin of victory of 23.8 points per game they have faced some stiff, if not intermittent, competition.

“I guess you could say West Virginia was our toughest game this year,” Nembhard said. “We had a little bit of trouble with them at the beginning of the game but I think it was more about us than them.”

That game featured an injury to Jalen Suggs that forced him to miss a large part of the first half before returning later in the contest. Nembhard stepped up big for the Bulldogs, stuffing the stat sheet to the tune of 19 points, six assists, and five boards as the Zags won a nail-biter by five.

Although he has an additional year of eligibility remaining thanks to the redshirt year granted by the NCAA due to COVID-19, Nembhard has tested the waters of the NBA Draft twice before at Florida, declaring twice before returning to school. Playing with fellow Canadian superstars like R.J. Barrett as well as numerous other pro prospects has primed the 21-year-old sociology major for a future on the hardwood.

“The main goal is to go to the league. That’s where I see myself in the near future,” Nembhard said.

There will be plenty to shakeout before Nembhard needs to think about playing basketball professionally, namely the WCC and NCAA tournaments that the Zags very much intend to win.

For now, fans can rejoice in the sweet passes, silky swishes and crafty pull-ups offered to you by Nembhard night in and night out. Nembhard is not the first guard to don the navy and white nor will he be the last; but the abrupt cancellation of last year’s season should serve as a reminder to the Zag faithful that one can never be sure when they’ll see the last display from basketball from one of their beloved Bulldogs. 

Tommy Conmy is a staff writer.

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