Killian Tillie showed us all what he was made of when he came in as a late substitute during Gonzaga’s Final Four victory over South Carolina.
Despite being on the bench for an extended period of time, Tillie came in cold with Sindarius Thornwell at the free throw line knowing that he needed to grab a rebound at all costs to ice the game for the Zags. Naturally, Tillie grabbed the crucial rebound and then calmly sank two free throws of his own at the other end to put the Zags up by four points and punch the program’s ticket to the national championship game. In a pressure-packed moment, Tillie came up big.
The young man from France did well in his role as a high energy utility forward off the bench throughout his freshman campaign. While he received the least amount of minutes amongst the eight players in Mark Few’s regular rotation at just 12.2mpg, Tillie proved he could be relied upon and gave Gonzaga fans a lot of reasons to be optimistic about his future.
It was clear at the start of the season just how high Tillie’s basketball ceiling could be. An athletic and long forward who is perfect for the “stretch-4” position required in modern basketball, he made an easy transition from the European game into Gonzaga’s system. Armed with a good shooting stroke and comfortable with the ball on the perimeter, Tillie is a dynamic offensive threat with room to grow as an interior scorer. It was his defensive capabilities, however, that earned Tillie time right away and made him an impact substitute.
Blessed with quick feet and lateral agility, Tillie (along with Williams and Collins), gave Gonzaga the ability to switch on defensive matchups up and down the lineup. He demonstrated a good understanding of help defense and the potential to be a solid rim protector down the road. His length and energy also made him a potent rebounding threat, and despite his limited minutes he managed to average over three rebounds per game. While he showed a propensity for picking up fouls, I suspect that will dissipate as he continues to learn (and referees will move on to target the new freshmen).
Tillie and Collins were a great freshman duo to pair together off the bench, showing good chemistry in the high-low action that is a staple of Gonzaga’s offense. With Collins moving on to the NBA, they won’t get an opportunity to reprise that relationship next season. However, Tillie will be just fine stepping into a greater role as the team becomes more reliant on him moving forward.
There will be ample minutes and opportunities for Tillie next season and into the future. As the frontcourt gets re-tooled, it will be fun to see what Tillie can do alongside Johnathan Williams, Rui Hachimura, and Jacob Larsen. Zag fans are understandably sad to see Collins go, but there’s still plenty of talent left in the cupboard next season, and that starts with Killian Tillie.