While much of the focus on this site has been on a certain decision made last night, three current members of the Gonzaga team have been gaining invaluable experience playing against the best talent in the world. Both Kelly Olynyk and Rob Sacre are representing Team Canada in the FIBA World Championships, while Elias Harris is with the German National team.
Unfortunately, neither Kelly Olynyk or Rob Sacre have been able to any real impact for Canada, who is off to an 0-2 start and appears a longshot to advance out of group play. It's still a huge success for both of these guys to even be playing at this high level of basketball, especially with Kelly not even being a consistent member of the Gonzaga rotation last year. However, I don't expect to see either getting a ton of minutes, as the game is just too fast and too physical at this level for both guys. Of the two, Sacre has seen a little more action, playing 15 minutes combined in the first two games.
With neither Kelly or Rob making much of an impact, much of my attention has been on seeing how Elias has developed over the summer. While it won't be something that jumps out in the stat line when you look at the box score, Harris has been one of the key contributors to a German team that has been one of the big surprises of this entire tournament.In watching Elias last season, I don't think there is any Gonzaga fan that could question that impact and dominance he displayed on the offensive end. After watching both of his games so far in Turkey, I see no reason that we won't see the exact same kind of production, but perhaps in a more natural way. What I mean by this statement is that often times Elias' production came out of the flow of the offense, with him often forcing the action. I think a lot of that had to do with the fact that he was a freshman who didn't have a great handle on the intricacies of the offense and how to be effective within the flow of it. However, it's clear that this summer with the German National team has given Elias the opportunity to dramatically improve his basketball IQ. It's impressive watching Harris play so comfortably within the flow of the motion offense, and he is being utilized both on the perimeter and in the paint. Instead of forcing the ball to the hoop with reckless abandon, Elias is scoring within the flow of the offense, averaging five points per game in about 19 minutes of action per game.
However, the real reason I decided to put together this story is because of the defensive energy Elias has displayed during his time on the court. While he certainly impressed on the offensive end, I don't think it would be out of line to suggest that there were times that Harris looked lost on the defensive end of the court. If this summer is any indication, that will not be something that the coaching staff will have to worry about this season. On numerous occasions, Elias has been utilized guarding the main ball handler for the opposing team, and often times picking him up on the opponent's half of the court. With his athleticism and quickness, it's been tremendous watching this 6'7 forward contain and control the penetration of an opposing guard. Equally impressive has been the overall hustle that Elias has displayed. His play in the 4th quarter and 2nd OT against Serbia was instrumental in helping Germany to the upset victory.
With the roster that the coaching staff has at its disposal this season, there is absolutely no excuse for this to be one of the best defensive teams in the country. If you assume that we will see a starting lineup of Goodson, Gray, Arop, Harris, and Sacre, which I think is highly-likely, this would present Gonzaga with easily the most athletic and defensively gifted team of the Mark Few era. It's imperative that the coaching staff emphasize the importance of defense this year, as this group is capable of playing a potentially dominant 2-3 zone, as well as a high-energy man-to-man defense. If there is one thing to take from the additions of Keita and Monninghoff, to go along with the play of Harris this summer, it's the fact that lapses and poor defensive execution must be a thing of the past for the Gonzaga program.