Mark Few, Gonzaga
When I caught up with Few at the Fab 48 tournament at Bishop Gorman High School in Las Vegas, I reminded him that we conducted this same exercise last summer in that very gym. During that conversation, he told me that redshirt center Kelly Olynyk had improved dramatically and would have a great year. ("And you didn't believe me," Few said.) In fact, Olynyk was so good that he entered the NBA draft, where he was selected 13th by the Celtics. Given that Gonzaga lost two other starters, it's fair to say the program will take a step back from the version that was ranked No. 1 at the end of last season and earned its first-ever No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament.
Instead of being anchored up front by Olynyk and Elias Harris, Gonzaga will rely heavily on its backcourt duo of 6-2 Kevin Pangos and 6-1 Gary Bell, Jr. "We'll be more guard-oriented," Few said. "Those guys have a lot of minutes under them. They've played a lot of games and had a lot of success in big moments." Unfortunately, Bell has had a "frustrating off-season," according to Few. He has not been able to work out this summer because he is still recovering from a stress fracture in his foot that he suffered during the first half of Gonzaga's NCAA tournament loss to Wichita State. Bell also had arthroscopic surgery to clean up one of his knees.
Pangos, on the other hand, has been very active this summer while competing at the LeBron James Skills Academy as well as for the Canadian national team at the World University Games. "He's just a worker, man," Few said. "We need to get him hunting more shots. He's got to find more ways to score."
The larger question revolves around the frontcourt. That's where Przemek Karnowski, the 7-1 sophomore center from Poland who averaged just 10.7 minutes per game, comes in. Few told me that Karnowski has slimmed down to 280 pounds after arriving on campus a year ago weighing 310. He has spent the summer playing for the Polish 20-and-under team. "He'll take a big step forward. He's primed for that," Few said. "We had such a plethora of bigs last year. He was starting to develop at the end of the year. Maybe it didn't manifest itself in points and rebounds, but we saw it."
Few also has high hopes for one of his newcomers, Gerard Coleman, a 6-4 swingman who transferred from Providence and is now eligible after sitting out last season. The Zags don't have nearly the depth up front they did last season, but that does not mean Few will try to increase the tempo. "I don't know if we'll press that much," he said. "We'll spread the floor. We've got to be able to shoot at all five spots."
Debbie Downer that I am, I couldn't talk to Few about last season without bringing up the disappointing ending -- a 76-70 loss to No. 9 seed Wichita State in the Round of 32. "I don't know. Didn't I see them get Ohio State down by 20?" he said, neck stiffening. "Didn't they have Louisville down by 12 in the second half? We just ran into a really hot team. They made 14 threes against us. They made two the game before. That's just the nature of the tournament, unfortunately."
It's also the nature of expectations, but Few didn't think his team would be flying too far under the radar. "We still have high expectations of ourselves," he said. "We always do. Every year is different. Every team takes on its own identity."
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