Ryan Spangler has the potential to play a key role this season for Gonzaga if he can adjust to the speed and athleticism of Division I basketball.
As Zach mentioned in his preview of Kyle Dranginis, there has been quite a bit of hype surrounding the incoming
recruits for the upcoming season. Thanks to some gaudy statistics during his senior season at Bridge Creek high school in Oklahoma, during which he averaged 29.8 points and 17.4 rebounds, it seems plausible to think that Ryan Spangler could be another hidden gem that the Gonzaga coaching staff has unearthed. While the production that Spangler demonstrated during his senior season can't be ignored, I remain cautious in my expectations for the Oklahoma State Player of the Year.
Before delving into some of the challenges that Spangler will face in his transition to Division I basketball, let's explore what Spangler will bring to the table in a Gonzaga uniform. At both the AAU level and high school level, Spangler has proven to be a dominant rebounder. It's pretty clear that the 6'8 power forward possesses the athleticism and work ethic to contribute on the defensive end and as a rebounder during his freshman season. As has been discussed on this blog in the past, rebounding is essentially a combination of work ethic and proper positioning, with any semblance of athleticism being an added bonus. Therefore, it would be no surprise to see Spangler in the rotation this season as a big body that can come off the bench and work in unison with more offensively gifted post players like Elias Harris and Sam Dower.After highlighting some of the positives that Spangler presents, it's important to take a realistic look at some of the challenges he will face. The glaring issue that worries me is how Spangler will transition offensively to the Division I game. While it's unfair to call his stats inflated, it must be noted that the high school competition that Spangler faced did nothing to help prepare him for the type of defender he will face over the next 4-5 years. In nearly every game, Spangler had a significant height advantage over the opposing defender, which often allowed him to finish at the rim without having to deal with a true shot-blocking threat. It will be interesting to see how Spangler will handle going up against guys who can match his size and athleticism, which will certainly be the case when facing teams like Michigan St., Arizona and Xavier. I'm not sure if his raw strength and athleticism will be enough for him to be an offensive threat at this level, so how he develops on the offensive end will play a vital role in the type of career he will have in a Gonzaga uniform.
While I do have worries about Spangler offensively at this level, I find it encouraging that he has shown the ability to score off the drive, as well as the potential for a strong face-up game. In some of the highlights I have seen, Spangler has also shown impressive court vision for a guy his size. Gonzaga really hasn't had an elite passing big man since JP Batista, which in the flex offense is a huge weapon. If Spangler can keep the defense honest with a consistent jump shot, he will be able to utilize his athleticism to beat his defender off the dribble, or find open teammates in the flow of the offense.
Seeing as this is a player preview, this post needs to end with some sort of prediction on what fans should expect from Spangler this year. I have a hard time finding an answer for this, because each and every practice over the next six weeks will play a big role in what fans see from Spangler this season. If he is able to pick up the flex offense and show the ability to score against Division I level big guys, he will certainly have a key role off the bench. However, there also remains the distinct possibility that Spangler will need a redshirt year to adjust to the athleticism and strength that he will face on a daily basis.