2010-11 Player Previews: European freshmen incite intrigue, but will they contribute?

Mathis Keita obviously have the raw ability and upside. The question will be whether or not he is mature enough to contribute right away for Mark Few.

This post is somewhat of a penance for me. 

When I first heard that Elias Harris signed with Gonzaga, I was an enormous skeptic.  I saw his stats in the German pro leagues and read the reviews that he was extremely raw, relied on his athleticism too much, and struggled to shoot.  Slowly but surely, Elias began to appear to as the star that we all known him as now.  The summer before his freshman year, he wowed onlookers at a FIBA International event and then he took Spokane by storm. 

After that....how can I doubt a foreign import again?  It seems as though Tommy Lloyd and the rest of the staff just get it.

Mathis Keita and Mathis Monninghoff are Gonzaga's newest incoming players with foreign roots.  Keita hails from France while Monninghoff, like Harris, comes to Spokane from Germany.  Just like with Gonzaga's previous foreign recruits, these two come with about 100 times more questions than a typical domestic recruit.  Who did he play against?  Where are the highlight reels?  Why isn't he listed on Germany.Rivals.com?  There are a billion questions when it comes to the recruitment of foreign players so we are here to answer some of them and hopefully help answer the most important question.  What made them so special that the staff would travel to another continent to go and grab them?

learn more about Mathis and Mathis after the jump...

If you have been reading this blog for any extended period of time, you know that Max and I are tremendous fans of the term "upside".  Keita and Monninghoff have it in spades.

For the purposes of this article (player preview for 2010-11), we need to put down the U word and deal with what matters the most; will they contribute immediately?  From what Max and I have gathered from those with knowledge of both players and with knowledge of how they are progressing at Gonzaga, it sounds like the answer will be definitely for one and probably for both.  The funny part is that no one knows who that one definite is yet.

If I haven't confused you yet, let me explain. First, maybe I should layout the "lock" rotation as I see it right now:

PG: Meech/Marquise
SG: Gray
F:  Arop
F: Harris/Olynyk
C: Sacre/Dower

I think we can all agree that this is probably how things are going to look when the Zags take the court for the first time on November 5th.  What I think we also will agree on is that...there are some holes in the backcourt.  Gray and Arop are studs, sure, but they'll need some solid backups to eat up minutes and not make mistakes on the floor.

Enter Mathis and Mathis.  First, Mr. Monninghoff.  Here is a great quote from our good friend Cristophe over at Europeanprospects.com

He is the player that you want to have on your team, that you don’t see but without having him in the lineup, the team starts to struggle. Mönninghoff is really a fundamentals player who does not commit a lot of errors on the court. He can hit the jump shot out of the dribble, his three point shot looks perfect in catch and shoot situations and he can nail it also in fade away style.

At a slight 6'7'', Mathis Monninghoff has been playing up in age for the past few years.  Like Elias Harris, he has worlds of experience playing not only against players more mature than him but with players more skilled than him.  For that reason, Mathis' biggest knock in international circles was that he was too unselfish.  He could fade to the background too often and not assert his wonderful offensive skill set.  At Gonzaga, in a backup role, Mathis could come in, be a steady player, not make mistakes, and eat up minutes while the more experienced players got valuable rest.  It'll take him time to build confidence but I think as the season progresses, Mathis could be a guy we see come in and start asserting himself and pulling the trigger more and more often.  By all accounts, he has a deadly and underrated three-point stroke and he backs it up with the ability to compete on both ends of the floor. 

Like the rest of Gonzaga's freshman class, Mathis needs to add some weight and get himself ready for a more physical brand of basketball.  The staff eventually sees him as becoming a very solid slashing small forward but for the time being, the Zags are absolutely in the market for a kid who can hit the open shot, defend the ball, and play smart basketball.  Let's pencil him in the rotation....

F:  Arop/Monninghoff

Now for Mathis Keita.  Once again, here is a review from our friend Cristophe at Europeanprospects.com:

Mathis Keita was used with the French team more in a SG role this summer but still helped out on the PG during moments. He was however the vocal leader on the court in the absence of the natural leader Leo Westermann. Keita did a nice job when attacking the basket but his long-distance shot is still far from being consistent. On the other hand, he is doing a really nice job pushing the ball on the fast break and attacking the basket with both hands.  

Standing at a very long, lanky 6'5'', Keita is a prototypical athlete.  I mean that in a football sense....not quite sure where you are going to play him yet, but you know he's a guy that belongs on the team.  Keita's biggest problem right now is that people have struggled with where to place him.  He has decent enough handles to run point, but seems to have a decent enough shot so that you could mold him into a very promising off-guard since he is so skilled at attacking the basket.  On an immediate basis, Keita, like Monninghoff, seems to be a guy that Gonzaga could put out there and be confident that good things will happen.

I make that last statement based on the fact that I feel this can be one of Gonzaga's most outstanding defensive teams in recent memory.  With Goodson, Gray, and Arop already on the perimeter, opposing guards should have a very tough time making things happen against the Bulldogs.  Adding a guy like Keita, who is very long and very quick seems to be an excellent fit for a team that was downright abysmal a season ago defending the outside.  The offensive game is in development.  Whereas Monninghoff already has an excellent three-point stroke, Keita's is still a work in progress.  However, Keita does have an innate ability to get to the rack and challenge post players so he wouldn't be a total offensive liability.  Why don't we pencil Keita in the rotation as well for the time being...

PG: Meech/Marquise
SG: Gray/Keita
F:  Arop/Monninghoff
F: Harris/Olynyk
C: Sacre/Dower

All six in that backcourt rotation are good enough defensively to make Gonzaga a serious full court press threat.   With Gray's ability to track the ball, Meech's ability to guard the point, and Arop/Keita/Monninghoff's purely raw ability, I have to imagine you wouldn't find a more tenacious defensive backcourt on the west coast.  The trick will be getting them to mesh offensively.  With freshmen, that will take time but there is little doubt that the rotation above intrigues the hell out of me...

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