Gonzaga Bulldogs: 2011 Recruiting Class Paying Massive Dividends for Mark Few & Zags

The Gonzaga Bulldogs have never quite been able to recruit the same level of talent out of high school as the likes of Kentucky, Duke and Kansas, however GU has firmly cemented its place alongside those three schools in the College Basketball hierarchy by recruiting players who not only fit their system and culture, but players that they can develop.

The Zags also tend to find gems on the international market with future NBA players Ronny Turiaf, Kelly Olynyk and Robert Sacre all coming from outside the states. The Zags have two future NBA players on their roster in European big men Przemek Karnowski and Domantas Sabonis.

Despite the lack of McDonalds All-Americans, Mark Few has put together impressive recruiting classes in the past. 2007 brought Sacre and another future NBA player in Austin Daye as well as fellow top-100 recruit Steven Gray who flourished as one of the team’s best players.

While the 2011 class didn’t bring the size that 2007’s brought, the group of players to arrive in Spokane in 2011 has helped propel GU to its first Sweet 16 since 2009. This year’s incarnation of Gonzaga may be Mark Few’s best, and could reach the school’s first Final Four. While a lot of this has to do with the Zags’ daunting frontline, featuring a three-headed monster of Karnowski, Sabonis and Kyle Wiltjer, a lot of it has to do with the backcourt.

Starting guards, and products of the 2011 recruiting class, Kevin Pangos and Gary Bell Jr. have sacrificed a lot in order to make the team better. Both have seen their per-game scoring numbers drop by nearly three points each. Bell Jr. is often tasked with checking the opposition’s best permitted defender while Pangos rarely gets a breather, playing 35 or minutes on 22 occasions this season.

Despite their sacrifices, Pangos and Bell Jr. form one of the best backcourts in the country.

Pangos is an unflappable floor-general who is lethal from three-point land (44.9% this season) and can beat you off the dribble with a potent array of layups and floaters. If Gonzaga weren’t incredibly blessed with a wealth of scoring options, it would surprise no one to see Pangos’ per-game scoring approach 20 points. Oh yeah, he’d probably start on just about every team in the country… including Kentucky.

His backcourt mate Bell Jr. is one of the best defenders in the country. Despite a 6’2” frame that puts him at a height disadvantage, Bell Jr. can lock down almost anyone on the perimeter. Just ask BYU’s Tyler Haws, who despite having a height advantage of three inches and being one of the best scores in the country, struggled mightily against the Zags due to the presence of Bell Jr. Haws’ bread and butter is the contested mid-range jumper, but he managed shooting nights of 6-14, 3-11 and 4-12 against Gonzaga. And oh yeah, Bell Jr. can knock down the three as well. He shot 47.7% as a freshman and still manages a similarly deadly 37.7 clip this season. Similar to Pangos, if GU had fewer weapons or if Bell Jr. were at a bigger school with less firepower, he’d likely be a 15 point-per-game scorer.

In addition to Pangos and Bell Jr., Few also brought in Idaho native Kyle Dranginis as well.  Dranginis operates as the team’s hustle monger off the bench, always challenging for offensive rebounds, loose balls and blocked shots despite being shorter than a good portion of the opposition. He only averages 4.1 points a contest, but if it weren’t for the presence of USC-transfer Byron Wesley, Dranginis would be starting and easily averaging double-figures in points per game. Despite only scoring three points in the team’s round-of-32 win over Iowa, he had a steal, a block, two rebounds and four assists. He fills the stat sheet for the Zags. In win at Sweet Sixteen opponent UCLA in December, Dranginis totaled five points, six rebounds and five assists. He also had a steal and a made three pointer.

Due to freshman Josh Perkins’ broken jaw and Eric McClellan’s acclimation process, Few has largely depended on a backcourt rotation of Pangos, Bell Jr. and Dranginis down the stretch.

In addition to those three, GU’s 2011 recruiting class is also paying dividends elsewhere. Forward Ryan Spangler transferred to Oklahoma to be closer to home and has helped the Sooners to the Sweet Sixteen with 9.9 points per game and 8.2 rebounds per contest. He posted seven double-doubles this season and reached double-figures in rebounding in 12 contests.

The remaining members of the 2011 class have propelled the Zags to a point where they can reach the program’s first final four. They’ve definitely earned it.

LeBron James: The Potential of the King in Cleveland

LeBron James could be a Cleveland Cavalier next season. Of course the operative word there is “could”. LeBron could opt out of his contract and become a free agent this summer. “The King” won back-to-back titles in Miami and has an excellent chance at a three-peat this season. Leaving Miami would be tough after a potential three-peat, but there are long-term questions about whether the Heat can continue to add pieces financially.

While the short-term potential in South Beach is tantalizing, the long-term potential in LeBron’s old home of Cleveland could be amazing.

Why Cleveland? Not only would James return to try and win a ring and a sense of redemption in his home state, he would also join an up-and-coming Cavaliers side.

Cleveland won’t exactly be pouting if their hometown hero stays in Miami. After all, they’re likely bound for the lottery again this season, and the potential to add one of Dante Exum, Julius Randle, Andrew Wiggins or Jabari Parker to a nucleus of Kyrie Irving, Dion Waiters, Tristan Thompson and Anthony Bennett is ridiculous.

Throw in Tyler Zeller, Anderson Varejao and Andew Bynum and you have a scary team.

(Let’s say that for all intents and purposes, the Cavs draft Exum, as suggested in this CBS piece, and start Varejao at center.)

How about this for a rotation-

PG Kyrie Irving

SG Dante Exum

F Anthony Bennett

F LeBron James

C Anderson Varejao


G Jarrett Jack

G Dion Waters

F Tristan Thompson

F Tyler Zeller

C Andrew Bynum

F Earl Clark

Cheap, Ray Allen-like Signing

Players would be lining up to play for this team. Not only do you have LeBron, but you also have a soon-to-be superstar in Irving and another potential superstar in their draft pick. It might not be Exum who the team takes, but with the depth in the upcoming draft class, whoever the pick is, they’re going to have tremendous upside.

The long-term potential in Cleveland for LeBron is undeniable. What’s more is that if, at age 35, LeBron can’t physically carry the team like he carries Miami now, Cleveland can turn to Irving or their young draft pick as the focal point of the team. They can then use LeBron in a more complimentary, less physically taxing role.

I’m not putting it past LeBron to carry a championship contender at age 35, but who knows what will happen when he gets up there in age.

The short-term potential in Miami is better than Cleveland, but I’ll pose it this way, if you were LeBron, do you want to be playing with the declining Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh in your later career years? Or do you want to be playing with a younger, more exciting Cleveland team where you don’t have to do as much?

It should also be noted that Wade and Bosh are going to be paid a lot of money down the road, as is LeBron. Thus making it difficult to add more pieces to compete for rings.

LeBron to Cleveland. Makes a lot of sense.



Six Things We Learned from Italy After the Netherlands Friendly

(Disclaimer: I don’t profess to know a ton about football. I just love the beautiful game.)

  1. Andrea Pirlo’s genius, pace and the fouls/free kicks he draws. Some people play on a whole other physical level, or a whole other level in terms of speed. The latter is Pirlo. (Also, isn’t it nice that in football/soccer, wherever you’re from, a players is simplified to just one name? Even if he hasn’t shortened his name to one name. Messi is called Messi when his full name is Lionel Messi, etc. Anyways, it lends itself to lazy typers like me, and the rest of the world for that matter.) Pirlo plays the game almost methodically. You know when basketball gurus say that the game has “slowed down” for some players? That’s Pirlo. He slows it down. While the tempo killing can sometimes be hard to watch, the Italian midfield maestro always makes the right pass, even if he has to slow down to do it. Expanding on that, especially in the match against the Dutch, everyone else was going 110 miles an hour (if you will) while Pirlo was cruising at a comfortable 85. The result of this is that a lot of hand checks and fouls that might go un-noticed were noticed as Pirlo drew multiple free kicks by simply playing at the speed he feels comfortable playing. I should also point out his genius. Which he is, by the way. Every game there are about three to four plays where he makes a pass that could open up the defense. If your defense gives Pirlo milk and curds he turns it into Swiss cheese. (Especially if he’s playing against the Swiss.)
  2. Buffon does it again. Where Pirlo makes three or four passes that unlock the defense, Gigi Buffon makes three or four saves that the average Joe keeper wouldn’t make every game. He did this again on multiple occasions against the Dutchmen.
  3. Sub Par? Not to say that the starters were lacking, but the substitutions of Pablo Osvaldo, Alessandro Diamanti, Alberto Gilardino and Marco Verratti certainly changed the game in a positive way.
  4. Slick Whats? The field was very slick in case you didn’t notice. At least half a dozen players hit the turf, one of which quelled a promising Italian attack.
  5. Friendly Strategy. (That faux headline didn’t work, but stick with me.)  Cesare Prandelli certainly isn’t using friendlies to get results. The Italy head-man consistently uses friendly games to test younger players and tinker with different pairings and lineups ahead of major tournaments. He’s using this strategy for the upcoming Confederations Cup as well as the Azzurri’s likely World Cup spot in Brazil in 2014.
  6. It’ll Work. Eventually. Italy’s spearheaded attack of Mario Balotelli and Stephan El Shaaraway seemed to be a bit stagnant in the first half. While the Osvaldo/Diamanti/Gilardino trident worked, the former group will likely be the long and short-term options up front. They’ll figure it out eventually, playing together that is. After all they both play for AC Milan. They’ll be tested and ready by Brazil.

If I missed anything from the game that you thought was mention-worthy, tell me in the comments section.

Thanks David Stern (sarcasm, sarcasm, a little passive aggressiveness and, wait for it … sarcasm)

Have you been watching the NBA playoffs? Have you seen the Oklahoma City Raiders, as the politically correct people call them? Have you seen how good Kevin Durant is? Have you seen Russell Westbrook go bananas? Have you seen James Harden’s beard? And have you seen Seattle?

I cringe at the fact that the Raiders are so good. Actually, take that back, I do think they are a decent NBA team, it’s just the constant feeling that they could have been in Seattle. Coulda, shoulda, woulda. They could be the talk of Seattle now, instead the talk of Seattle probably includes the word Robbed.

Take that word and flip it into whatever synonym you see fit, because we were robbed.

It continually kills me to see the Raiders succeed. Yes, that’s right; I’m to the point of not mentioning their name.

It’s not as if this is a city like New York, or Dallas where all of the sports teams generally succeed. The Yankees seemingly always make the playoffs. The Giants won the whole thing last year, and the Jets aren’t too bad either. And in Dallas, the Mavericks went from perennial playoff squad to title winners last year. The Rangers have won the last two AL pennants.

The point with that last blip is that the pill is easier to swallow if a team leaves, and if the other professional teams in and around the area are playing at a high level.

Which brings us to our next point. Where have the big playoff moments been in Seattle? The Storm won a title in the WNBA and the Sounders are a really good side, but our last big-nationally-talked-about-you’ll-remember-where-you-where-when-it-happened-moment was when Marshawn Lynch unleashed the beast and went on a smash-and-dash 67 yard run to clinch the win over the defending champion Saints in the playoffs. And that’s coming up on two years ago. Before that it was a Seahawks Super Bowl should-have-been-win that was botched by officiating, and before that we have to go back to “the Double” by Edgar Martinez. And that’s going back a ways.

But to get back on topic, Stern and his joined-at-the-hip buddy Clay Bennett have robbed us of a successful, Big 4 (that’s MLB, NBA, NFL and NHL) team. One that would have taken the city to a whole new level of sports pandemonium. Instead we are forced to sit and watch the Raiders succeed.

Stern and Bennett not only took away our team, they took away a team that is pretty darn good. And one that might be that good for a while.

One of my favorite moments in Sonicgate is when they flash to a kid showing a sign that reads: “Clay Bennett Ruined My Childhood.”

What we should remember here is that it isn’t just Bennett’s fault. The blame falls on others shoulders as well, people like Greg Nickles and Howard Schultz. But the main culprit not named Bennett is Stern.

Isn’t it funny that when we had the Sonics situation on our hands, David Stern barely lifted a finger? And then when we see Sacramento’s arena deal and team security thrown into uncertainty, Stern does almost everything godly possible to keep the team in Sacramento. He practically got them another year in Sacramento. And that’s the problem. He is in love with small markets.

I know everyone and their dog are rooting for the Raiders in the playoffs in and around the Oklahoma area, and the revenue off that is great and all, but wouldn’t you look a lot better if that were in say, Seattle?

Anyways, I wouldn’t go as far as to say that Bennett ruined my childhood. You see, my childhood has been great to this point. But I was in middle school when the Sonics left. I even wrote an essay on it for English class, saying why the Sonics should stay and all that. But that one year in middle school was also the year I really got into basketball. I mean I played it at every waking hour at school when I didn’t have classes. I was, and still am, obsessed with it. And that’s the sad thing. I never got to go to see the Sonics in person and barely saw them on TV. I’ve gone the last Andre-the-Giant-sized handful of years without an NBA team. Because the Sonics left I shifted my attention to the college ranks to get my winter basketball fill. Washington wasn’t amazing at the time so I watched a lot of Gonzaga and Washington State, seeing them both make the NCAA tourney.

And that’s just the thing today. For folks to get their local basketball fix their options are UW, WSU, Gonzaga and Seattle U. That’s it in the state. Seattle U is making the transition back to D1, and WSU and Gonzaga are on the other side of the Cascade Mountains. Not too many people are going to make that trek 2-3 times a week from the Puget Sound area to see basketball. Which leaves us with the Huskies. This is the first team in NCAA history not to make the tourney after winning the regular season championship in a power conference. They lost to South Dakota State by 19…

Let me say that again. They lost to South Dakota State by nineteen whole points!

I tend to get caught up in baseball over the summer, so that makes it a bit hard to follow the Storm intensely.

So, thanks to Stern and his little buddy Bennett (and some others) the biggest basketball draw in the Pacific Northwest over the winter and spring is a team that lost to South Dakota State by 19 points. Did I mention it was at home? Maybe if the Raiders win a ring and the NBA doesn’t come back to Seattle soon you very well may have ruined my childhood, Bennett and Stern.