You have probably heard about it now, but the Gonzaga recruiting class of 2016 will go down as the best in team history. Scout.com recently named it the No. 14 class of 2016 in all of college basketball, led by the prospective "local" studs Zach Collins and Zach Norvell, and the international rampage of Jacob Larsen, Rui Hachimura and Killian Tillie.
We will ignore the Hachimura question mark now, there is still the chance that he re-classifies to the 2017 class, but even without him, the Zags' 2016 class is absolutely loaded.
Since we are looking at Scout’s overall rankings, let’s take a look at how the class breakdowns have been in over the past few years.
There has always been a random four-star recruit peppered in there. From Matt Bouldin to Austin Daye, the Zags have been able to compete with the big schools for the big boys, but now they have a lot more assistance on their side.
Jeremy Pargo is now making pitches for the kids that come from the fertile Chicago area. The Olynyk Clinic is now something which incoming recruits know about, especially now that Olynyk is entrenched with a playoff caliber NBA team. There was an entire HBO series that pretty much showcased how when you come to Gonzaga, you aren’t merely a basketball player, you are a member of the student body and a member of a brotherhood of guys trying to reach the Final Four.
All of that is paying dividends now. Pargo was in contact with Zach Norvell from the start, telling him about his experience as a Zag. Zach Collins referenced what the Gonzaga staff did with Kelly Olynyk after he committed to the school. Corey Kispert mentioned the HBO show as one thing that helped cement what he saw when he took his official visit.
On top of that, you can throw in the fact that Gonzaga has now become a place for transfers to get one last look at glory. Byron Wesley had a great year here. Eric McClellan was able to revitalize his career here and will leave the program as one of the more likeable Zags in recent memory. Kyle Wiltjer, who was already good, got better. The jury is out on Nigel Williams-Goss and Johnathan Williams III but the jury will probably come back with some positive results.
The Gonzaga recruiting program has taken a huge turn, and it is for the better. The ability to compete on a national level involved two separate, but key, aspects. First, the Zags have done a better job than most every other school in consistently landing top European aspects. Tommy Lloyd isn't just vacationing in France when he is looking at Ronny Turiaf, nor is he merely checking out the castles in eastern Europe when he is talking with Przemek Karnowski. With Domantas Sabonis about to hop on into the NBA, the Zags now have a solid track record of making sure international recruits can grow their game to take part in the best league in the world.
Secondly, and perhaps most importantly, the Zags have built a culture of success that also breathes life into the actual lives of their basketball players. Each and every year, no matter what is going on in the season, you hear about how tight knit the locker room is. It is a sure fire thing that there will be some story in some paper somewhere that the Gonzaga locker room is close.
College basketball players like to transfer, although hardly at the rate that normal college students like to transfer. Gonzaga hasn't been immune to that, but they also haven't really been bitten by it either. The last two major pieces to transfer were Ryan Spangler (who wanted to be closer to home), and Demetri Goodson (who wanted to play football and is now in the NFL). Where as the Zags have successfully tapped into the transfer market, that locker room culture of success and friendship helps keep players at the school.
All of this is adding up to a new phase in the Gonzaga Bulldog lore. The Zags have gone from Cinderella darling, to NCAA Tournament lock, to perennial top-25 team, to consistent Elite Eight or better threat. Of course, some prospects are just that -- prospects. But as of now, the Bulldogs are getting closer and closer to competing with the Dukes and Kentuckys of the world, but doing so in their own, original, Gonzaga way.