The final buzzer of the NCAA men’s basketball season may have sounded on April 5, but the action hasn’t ceased for Gonzaga. In the weeks following the national championship game, the Zags have seen a lot of people go, while getting other key pieces on board to help GU return as a national title contender again next season.
The most exciting news of the team’s recent updates came on Monday, when Minnehaha Academy big man and the nation’s No. 1 high school recruit Chet Holmgren announced that he will be taking his talents to GU for his freshman year next season.
Holmgren is a unique 7-foot-1-inch, 190 lb. center with a 7-foot-6-inch wingspan that ESPN says has elite ball-handling, midrange shooting, lob catching and shot-blocking skills with above average footwork. The 2021 high school class’s No. 1 player according to ESPN and 247Sports put up an impressive statline of 20.8 points, 12.6 rebounds, 4.7 blocks and 4.5 assists a game on 80% field goal shooting this year in Minnesota, making him the most coveted high school prospect to pick GU as their premiere destination.
“It was [Gonzaga's] consistent approach, how versatile they are on the court and their offensive style,” Holmgren told ESPN after he committed. “They take their talent and tweak their system based on their personnel. They know how to put it all together."
The addition of Holmgren is only part of what is shaping up to be head coach Mark Few’s best recruiting class ever secured at GU. On March 26, it was fellow five-star recruit and ESPN’s No. 13 player in the 2021 class Hunter Sallis who declared as a Zag. Sallis is a 6-foot-5-inch point guard out of Millard North High School in Nebraska who averaged 22.3 points, 5.6 rebounds and 3.5 assists per game this season, and he chose GU over seven other schools including Creighton University from his hometown.
The pair of GU five-stars are now a part of an incoming freshman class that includes four-star forward Kaden Perry, international talent Fanbo Zeng and Ben Gregg, who was No. 56 in ESPN’s 2021 class rankings before graduating high school early and joining GU for the latter half of the 2020-21 season.
Sallis is already projected to be a first round pick in next year’s NBA draft, while Holmgren is considered a shoe-in top-five selection. He could be following in the footsteps of former Minnehaha Academy teammate Jalen Suggs, as Suggs announced on ESPN’s ‘The Jump’ later on Monday that he’ll be leaving GU for the NBA.
“I will be entering my name into the NBA Draft and signing with an agency,” Suggs said on-air Monday. “I’m super excited and I can’t wait to take this next step in my journey; it’s something I’ve dreamed about since I’ve been a little kid, to be here now is surreal and I’m ready to get going.”
Suggs established himself as one of the premier players on a GU squad teeming with talent this past season. He averaged 14.4 points, 5.3 rebounds and 4.3 assists as a true freshman while demonstrating strong leadership qualities and adding clutch performances to make him especially appealing to NBA franchises.
With the move, Suggs will be joining senior Corey Kispert and redshirt junior Joel Ayayi on NBA draft boards after Ayayi declared on April 9 and Kispert on April 13.
The trio that made up the Zags’ core backcourt this past season aren’t the only ones who have departed from GU in recent weeks. On the coaching side of things, longtime GU assistant coach Tommy Lloyd — the man credited with finding the program its swath of foreign talent over GU’s 20 year run — has taken the head coaching position at the University of Arizona.
A well respected program in the illustrious PAC-12, U of A had come under hard times in recent seasons after the university was found to be illegally paying players following a 2017 investigation by the NCAA. The Wildcat’s former head coach Sean Miller was never directly implicated in the charges handed down by the NCAA which included five Level I rule violations; but after failing to win an NCAA tournament game since the allegations came to light, Miller was fired by the school on April 7.
Lloyd will have to overcome sanctions and penalties accrued by U of A over the next few seasons, but he said that he’ll overcome those obstacles to reconstruct the Wildcats thanks to his years under Few.
“I want to thank [Mark] for giving me the opportunity to work at Gonzaga and preparing me for this opportunity,” Lloyd said at his Arizona news conference. “The way he treated me and the freedom he gave me has prepared me to be a head coach — no doubt about it.”
Joining Lloyd in Tucson will be Oumar Ballo, GU’s former 7-foot center and the top international recruit from his year’s recruiting class who announced his decision to transfer on Monday. After sitting out the 2019-20 season on an academic redshirt, Ballo looked to become GU’s go-to big man off the bench last season. However, he saw limited time on the court, averaging 6.2 minutes per game, and those minutes dwindled down the stretch as Ben Gregg began to assert himself in the rotation.
Another GU big man Pavel Zakharov entered his name in the transfer portal on April 9 and went on to sign with California Baptist University late last week. Zakharov, originally from St. Petersburg, Russia, but a graduate of the esteemed Montverde Academy in Florida, went from averaging 4.5 minutes of floor time his freshman year with GU to 2.8 minutes last season.