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Player Previews: Zags Need Andy Poling to be More than a Big Body

With added strength to his 6'11 frame, Andy Poling should prove to be a formidable presence in the post for the Zags this season.
With added strength to his 6'11 frame, Andy Poling should prove to be a formidable presence in the post for the Zags this season.

The path from high school star to Gonzaga redshirt freshman has not been easy for Andy Poling. When Poling committed to Gonzaga during his sophomore year at Westview high school, he was considered one of the elite prospects in the entire country. However, a mysterious illness took away the strength and energy for Andy, as he suffered through a difficult junior year of high school. During his senior year, Poling began to show flashes of the skill and scoring ability that made him such a coveted prospect early in his high school career. Even with that improvement in performance, Poling continues to remain one of the great unknown factors for this upcoming season. Both Leon Rice and Ray Giacoletti made it clear to us that Andy took advantage of his redshirt year, as he put on tons of weight and strength to his 6'11 frame. With that said, the question of what kind of level Andy can produce at against strong DI competition on a daily basis remains. What we do know is that for this team to reach the potential many people think is possible, Andy must prove to be more than just another big body in the rotation.

Both Zach B and I have had no problem displaying our optimism for the quality backcourt options that the coaching staff will have at its disposal for the foreseeable future. This optimism for the backcourt can be completely contrasted by the questions and uneasiness that is felt when discussing the frontcourt this season. The one fact that is difficult to challenge is that Rob Sacre will open the season as the starting center. Who will start at PF, and how the post rotation will work is a question that nobody knows the answer to at this point, and that includes the coaching staff. I tend to be of the belief that Elias Harris will open the season as the starting PF, but for the sake of this team and the post rotation, it's incredibly important that Andy can push Elias for that starting spot. 

The most appealing factor that Andy brings to the table is the terrific size that he presents at both the PF and the C position. I remember when I saw Andy the first time on campus, and I was stunned by just how skinny he was. But as the season progressed and the school year went by, Andy continued to grow and put on muscle. He is now listed as a legitimate 232 pounds, and the weight he has put on is mostly muscle. With that size, Andy is immediately one of the bigger PF options for any school in the country. I continue to emphasize Andy as a PF, because I don't believe he has the mentality to bang in the post that is typically associated with a true center.

Andy brings a unique offensive skill set to the table for Gonzaga. He has a very advanced back to the basket game for a guy at this stage in his career, and also has the terrific ability to finish with both his left and right hand around the hoop. In addition to a strong post game, Andy also presents good range on his jumper, as he can hit consistently from 15 feet, and if left open, can hit the occasional three pointer. I don't think we will ever see Andy shoot from behind the arc as often, or with as much consistency as we did Josh, but it is still a good luxury for a guy his size to have. In the highlights I have seen of Andy from high school, he uses his long arms effectively to alter shots on the defensive end, as well as to be a pretty productive rebounder. During the exhibition game prior to last season, Andy demonstrated great effort on the offensive glass, and really impressed everyone in attendance with his pursuit of the ball on both ends of the court.

One area that Andy must improve to be an effective player at this level is his reliance on using his length instead of getting in proper position. During the exhibition game, many Gonzaga fans were so impressed with how many rebounds that Andy was able to pull down in limited time. However, I came away worried about the habits he developed in high school (as I mentioned in the previous paragraph, his effort is something that can't be questioned). On a majority of the rebounds that Andy grabbed on both ends of the court, he didn't use his body to get in proper position, but instead just used his long arms to grab rebounds over the back of the shorter opponents. This may work against the teams on the schedule for Westview high school, but when going up against Michigan St. and Wake Forest, this will simply prove to be ineffective. The hope with Andy is that with the added strength, he will be able to establish his post position at a more efficient level, which will help make him a better defender and rebounder against the elite competition on the schedule.

If Andy has used the redshirt season to improve the way that has been indicated, this team will have a formidable and versatile group of post prospects. In Rob, Mark Few would have a true banger in the paint, and a guy who can dominate on the defensive end. Elias will provide tremendous athleticism and quickness for a PF, and can also take his defender off the dribble with great reliability. What is missing is the middle ground of Rob and Elias, and this role would be perfect for Andy to fill, and is imperative to the success and aspirations for this season.