The incoming 2014 recruiting class is one of the better ones Gonzaga has seen, especially considering the addition of Domantis Sabonis to the class. Silas Melson, a two guard from Portland, Ore., was the first 2014 recruit to commit and he might have the biggest impact on the team, at least if everything in this recent Portland Tribune feature comes out true.
You can go ahead and read for yourself, but there are two testimonials from mark Few and from Melson that lead me to believe he will be one of the better players the Bulldogs have seen roll through the ranks.
Much of this isn't a secret either. Melson blew up in the Northwest Shootout, scoring 40 points for Oregon in a 127-114 victory over Washington. He had 24 points, seven rebounds and four assists while playing every minute of the Oregon 5A championship game, in a game where Jefferson only suited up six players.
Displays like this have led coach Mark Few to say things like this.
"He's already an excellent on-ball defender, and he's only 17. He's got a lot of potential and will have a real bright future here. He has a good feel for the game and is another guy with a good stroke who is a very good athlete."
Few references Gary Bell Jr. as an easy comparison for Melson, and that is a pretty good comparison to have. Point guard Josh Perkins enters the 2014 class with all the hype, and he is the Kevin Pangos of the group. For every Pangos, there needs to be a Bell, and if Melson and Perkins operate at the level of Pangos and Bell, Gonzaga is completely set for guards for the near future. As it looks, Melson will be around for quite some time.
"I thought they had the best fit for me as a guard," [Melson] says. "Plus, they have great academics, and I plan on sticking around for all four years and getting my degree."
Of course, for a 17-year-old kid that is easy to say now. Melson could blow the roof off of every arena he runs into his sophomore year and head onto the NBA without a blink of the eye, but with an equally good compliment in the backcourt in Perkins, that probably won't be the case.
Most of all, it is what assistant coach Brian Michaelson said about Melson that is my biggest takeaway. And for him to really be like Bell, Melson will have to be the guy who replaces Bell as the big stopper on defense.
"He's a very good defender who I think can become a great defender. He's very athletic and a great shooting. He's coming off a great senior year."
The focus and growth on defense will be key for Gonzaga. This past season, the Bulldogs had the No. 15 defense in the country according to Ken Pomeroy. This was the best it has been since Pomeroy started providing statistics in 2002. The defense is also what allowed the Bulldogs to turn into what might have been an offseason into a season where the squad made the NCAA Tournament. Gonzaga's offense was ranked No. 51 by Pomeroy last season, the lowest it has been since he provided stats in 2002.
That age old saying of "defense wins championships" -- well it kind of turns out to be true. Of the past 10 NCAA champions, six had top-10 ranked defenses. The lowest ranked defense was the 2009 North Carolina team at No. 21, and those Tar Heels had an offense that obliterated everything in sight.
There is no guarantee that Melson will be the best player on the court during his career at Gonzaga. But it sounds like he has the tools to become that player, and if not, there isn't anything wrong with being the second option on a top-25 team. Often times, those are the players that make or break it in March.