One of the dumber comments during Monday’s championship game was “Karnowski may be having a rough game because he’s not used to playing against anyone as big as Kennedy Meeks.” Disregarding the fact three of the top 10 centers in the D-1 played in the WCC, Karno has spent almost four years, almost every day, playing against someone who’s 3 inches taller and 50 pounds heavier than Meeks; Ryan Edwards.
Probably the most overlooked reasons Gonzaga boasted the nation’s stingiest defense and one of its most efficient offenses is Gonzaga’s “Red Team”. The Red Team consists of those players who aren’t in the main rotation, the end-of-benchers who make up the practice squad. Through film study and coaching, they take on the characteristics of an upcoming opponent and practice against the Zag starter’s and 1st tier bench players.
Gonzaga’s Red Team would probably finish mid-pack in the WCC. Ryan Edwards at center, Rui at the 4, Alberts and Jones on the wing, Norvell and Triano as the shooting guard, Rem and Jack Beach at the point. Don’t forget Jacob Larsen waiting in the wings.
In the beginning of the season, Zach Collins was having problems finishing through contact. He’d get to the rim well enough, get fouled, but the wasn’t completing the play. Two months and several Ryan Edwards practices later, it was no longer a problem. Ryan is a contact delivering expert. Wiltjer developed his post games practicing against Ryan; Sabonis, Collins and Karnowski honed theirs. By the time he finishes his career at Gonzaga, Ryan may have worked with more NBA bigs than the Nike custom shoe department.
Just three years ago, stopping the three-pointer was a major concern for the Gonzaga defense. This year, the Zags had the 2nd lowest percentage of 3’s made against in the nation. Alberts, Triano, Norvell, Rui and Rem all have a pretty sweet stroke. You can picture the defensive drills and the rotations employed to shut those guys down at the perimeter. I watched St. Mary’s bomb away on BYU three times last season jacking up 76 threes and making 33, against Gonzaga they only made 18 on 48 attempts.
Walk-on Dustin Triano is one of the red teams most interesting players. The son of Canadian basketball royalty, two-time Olympian and former NBA head coach Jay Triano, Dustin could have played and possibly been a star at the DII or DIII level. Instead he chose to stay close to his Vancouver, Canada home and be part of a winning program. If Dustin decides to join the family business, coaching, he’ll have served a five-year apprenticeship under one of the best D-1 staffs in the nation.
If Gonzaga ever decided to retire a red jersey, it would belong to Rem Bakamus. Elf, social media star, air guitar virtuoso, dab innovator and popularizer of the man-bun. By all accounts an incredible teammate and fan favorite despite only playing 97 minutes in four years. Rem came to Gonzaga thanks to a friendship his father Bill developed with Tommy Lloyd. Bill Bakamus is a Washington Interscholastic Basketball Coaches Association Hall of Fame coach with over 500 wins in a 33-year career. Rem had interest from junior colleges and DIII schools, but decided to be part of a big program and appears to have made the most of his every minute as a Zag. Rem will be missed, something rarely said of a walk-on.
A huge part of the unprecedented success the Zags (and we fans) enjoyed this season has to be attributed to the dozens of hours the team spent in practice. The Red Team did its job and did it well. While some of this seasons Red Team players will be relegated to footnotes in Gonzaga history, some like Rui, Norvell, Alberts, Larsen and Jones are the future of the program. I expect great things from these players next season, after all, they spent the last one practicing against a pretty good group.