When it was announced that Khem Birch was transferring from Pittsburgh, of course my interest piqued. Birch is an extremely athletic PF that runs the court and plays excellent defense. He also happens to be Canadian, which is a huge selling point for Gonzaga given the success of Kevin Pangos and Kelly Olynyk. However, with no initial school list mentioned and the fact he played his high school basketball on the East Coast, I figured that this was not a player the Zags would be in the running for.
In his first extensive interview since transferring, Birch with spoke Jeff Goodman of CBSSports.com about his reasons for leaving Pitt, as well as a list of schools he is interested in. This is the part that Gonzaga fans will certainly want to focus on:
Birch reiterated that he wants to go somewhere more up-tempo and a spot where he can develop his four-man skills. "I want to play more four," he said. "That's one of the main reasons I went to Pittsburgh in the first place. I know I don't have the four-man skills yet, but I want to develop them."
He said that several schools have expressed interest thus far. His early list includes Florida, UNLV, Gonzaga, Washington, Xavier and New Mexico State. Birch is close with fellow Canadian Kevin Pangos at Gonzaga and also developed a friendship with big man Sim Bhullar - who is at New Mexico State.
So what should Gonzaga fans make of this potentially exciting development? The first point is that Khem Birch would be the highest-rated recruit to ever put on a Gonzaga uniform. According to Rivals.com, Birch was the 9th ranked player in the country in the 2011 class. Prior to his transfer, Birch was starting at Pitt, which is evidence of the athleticism and talent he possesses.
In terms of the depth he could add to the roster, it seems pretty clear that there is an immediate fit for him in the rotation. Having Birch at GU would allow the coaching staff to use Kelly Olynyk in that 3/4 role that Austin Daye thrived in. While many of us want Kelly to use his size to play in the post, the reality is that his skill set is more perimeter-based. That would leave Sam Dower, Ryan Spangler and potentially Elias Harris for 1/2 of a season. None of those three are even adequate defensive players at this point. The second Birch arrived on campus, he would immediately become the best defensive big guy on the roster. The year off to work on his skill development with a guy like Donny Daniels would be invaluable for Birch.
The other point that is clear in the article, which I encourage everyone to read before they start casting stones at a kid for transferring (yes, people will still bash him for transferring), is that Birch wasn't comfortable with his surroundings at Pitt. One of the things that Gonzaga has done a great job building is a family atmosphere and chemistry throughout the program. For a kid looking for a change of scenery, and a closer relationship with coaches and teammates, it would seem that Gonzaga would fit. If he wants to play at a quick tempo and learn to play the PF position, then once again, Gonzaga fits his need.
It will be very interesting to continue to monitor this situation with Birch. The fact that his list has four schools on the Western half of the country is important to note, as it makes it clear that distance won't be an issue. Stay tuned for fruther deveopments on Birch and the interest from Gonzaga.