Elias and Donny: A great week for Gonzaga basketball

It's never easy to write about a season that is seemingly ages away but it is very hard not to get excited with what has transpired in Zag land the past few days.  When Leon Rice left Gonzaga, I'm not sure if people realized how much the program was losing.  Coach Rice was an extremely charismatic person and was a huge reason why so many of the players we now have decided to come to Gonzaga.  He also has a great mind for the game so I was surprised to read in some places that the loss of Leon wasn't worse for this program.  My biggest fear was that our staff was struggle to find a replacement that was good enough to fill his shoes.  My worries were obviously misplaced as Gonzaga made a huge signing with Donny Daniels.  As if life couldn't get any better, I got a text from Max earlier today saying that Elias was on his way back for his sophomore year.  While this may have not been a huge surprise to some of you, I am always wary of the NBA and its power.  There's not a doubt in my mind that Elias has all the tools for a great pro career but I am also confident that he made a great choice, not only for Gonzaga, but for himself.  

My current attitude towards the hiring of Donny Daniels is one filled with curiosity.  I'm not even going to try and pretend to understand the depth of Mark Few and Leon Rice's relationship.  it was obviously very strong and they had really blossomed into best friends.  For this reason, it will be interesting to see how Daniels meshes with Coach Few, Giacoletti, and Lloyd.  While there will assuredly be a time where everyone will need to get acquainted with one another, it must be understood that there is very little time to waste as the summer and a very important recruiting and evaluation period begins.

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What instantly sold me on Donny Daniels is the fact that he is a renowned recruiter.  If there was one thing Gonzaga had been lacking in recent years, it was a strong domestic presence in recruitment.  The 2009 class is still working its way out of its shell but the 2008 class has, so far, been relatively disappointing.  Andy Poling has transferred, Grant Gibbs has battled injury and rarely gotten off the bench, and Demetri Goodson really hit a slump his sophomore season.  While the 2009 class has proven to be full of potential, you really can't count on getting such a major foreign pipeline year in, year out.  Daniels has been described as charismatic, powerful, caring, and wise when it comes to recruiting and I think his expertise will come in handy as we start to really press the 2011 class which is proving to be very strong.  I think we will see  very quick and promising results recruiting wise from the addition of Daniels and think he will be vital to delivering an outstanding 2011 class.

While the recruiting aspect of our new coach is great, the one thing I loved hearing about him is that he had a passion for defense.  If you look at some of UCLA's big men that were developed over their careers, you might not see insane offensive production and growth, but you will see a commitment to intensity, hustle, and defense.  Gonzaga's young post players like Elias Harris and Kelly Olynyk both leave much to be desired on defense.  They have slow feet, get lost in rotations, and can rely too much on athletic ability.  The addition of Daniels should help to improve their post defense as well as their quickness on the court.  His experience at a program like UCLA, which accepts nothing but excellence, should also be huge for this program.  I just can't wait to see how the attitude of this team changes once Donny is fully exposed to the team and everyone gets comfortable with one another.

Like I said earlier, I don't think this will be seamless.  Mark Few is used to his ways and I'm sure Donny has different tactics.  I look forward to seeing how much leeway Daniels gets as far as recruiting and coaching is concerned.  Any time you bring in someone new, you have to accept their identity, values, and beliefs and it is very possible that a breath of fresh air is exactly what Gonzaga needs.  The positives well outweigh the potential negatives in this manner.

Coach Daniels coming to the staff may have been the biggest surprise of the week but the biggest news might be that Elias Harris is coming back for his sophomore season.  During conference play, it was rumored that Harris would be returning but then after the season ended he was quoted as saying he would take some time to evaluate his options.  The NBA is a very lucrative industry and is the goal of everyone who laces them up so to see him turn that opportunity down was just outstanding.  When you bring back someone like Elias, you have to imagine how much he is going to grow over a summer when he knows what he has to work on.  He'll be hooking up with his German national team at some point but I hope he is able to get plenty of work in with the staff and Coach Daniels so he can really focus on his jump shot and overall defensive presence.

Gonzaga has had some remarkable combinations over the past few years but I whole-heatedly believe that Elias and Steven Gray have the chance to be one of the best.  They aren't your pure inside-out combo since they both have great versatility.  If Harris is given the chance to play on the wing next season, I'm not sure there is a more talented and explosive set of wings in this part of the country.

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