Like every other Gonzaga fan, there is no shortage of reasons why I am excited for the 2010-11 season to begin. With so much talent, yet so many question marks, this edition of the Gonzaga Bulldogs is without a doubt one of the most intriguing to date. Rather than a loaded backcourt, which we have seen so much of in recent years, the front court is without a doubt this team's best attribute. Returning three big time front line players with big time potential is great; but there aren't many programs that will have that depth and then also welcome a redshirt freshman that might just have as much talent as each of the returning players. This is what we have heard about Gonzaga center/forward Sam Dower. Redshirt years were designed for players like Sam. He was definitely talented enough to play right away but his potential down the line far outweighed the necessity of playing him last season.
Now, with a redshirt year full of practicing against Rob Sacre, Elias Harris, and Kelly Olynyk under his belt, Sam is ready to take his game to center stage and join what should be one of the best frontcourts in all the land.
At the very beginning of this post, I said I was excited about this coming season for a wide variety of reasons. I can tell you, however, that the thing I am most excited about seeing is Sam Dower and the Gonzaga Bulldogs frontcourt. The Zags' front line has a little bit of everything. From a prototypical center with room to mature in Rob Sacre to a 6'11'' former point guard who had a huge summer in Kelly Olynyk. And I didn't even mention the best player on Gonzaga's roster and, for my money, the best player on the West Coast, Elias Harris. For the purposes of this post, I can't address these guys but I can discuss someone who is going to make each of their lives much easier.
It is really hard not to get excited about Sam. Before arriving at Gonzaga, we conducted a number of interviews that all concluded with this common theme: Very skilled, still learning the game and his body; raw. This all screams redshirt season. Let him mature, let him bang around against his talented teammates for a season, and lock him in the weight room. Now that the year has elapsed, it is time to see how that year has transformed Sam.
When discussing a new addition to a team, I find it important to set differentiated levels of impact. When thinking about where Sam fits on this roster in terms of an immediate impact, all I can think about is transition and defense. On an immediate basis, I think those are two things we are sure to get out of Sam from jump street. At Osseo High School in Minnesota, Sam was notorious for his ability to run the floor, catch the ball on the move, and finish. With Gonzaga's up-tempo style; I can't imagine Sam not having games where he scores 10 points just off plays where he beats his man up and down the court. Defensively, as a raw athlete with reach, I thought this is where we really could have used Sam last season. With Robert Sacre already an experienced and outstanding shot blocker, the thought of Sam joining him on the floor is a scary thought. Sam's long reach and savvy defensive ability made him a great shot blocker and, more importantly, shot changer.
While Sam will bring much to the table immediately, don't discount him as an offensive threat for this team as early as next season. The southpaw center has a reputation for being able to step back and drain the mid-range jumper with remarkable consistency.
What I love most about Sam, though, is not what he personally brings to the table, but what his skill set provides this team. Think about the combinations Mark Few can throw at opposing teams. Want a team that is going to run you out of a gym? Try Elias Harris, Kelly Olynyk, and Sam Dower. Want a team that you can lock down on defense with? Toss in Manny Arop, Sam Dower, and Robert Sacre. How about some rebounding (GU's biggest issue)? Try Olynyk, Dower, and Sacre. Heck, you can even put Manny Arop, Gonzaga's most efficient rebounder a season ago at the two in this scenario. There are so many outstanding combos that Mark Few can come up with out of this deep pool of talent.
The only question now is...how do you divide the minutes?