The biggest question for Gonzaga basketball heading into the new season is what should be reasonably expected of Jacob Larsen.
Larsen had a decorated youth career in Europe, earning MVP honors at the 2013 FIBA U16 European Championship (averaging 20.1ppg and 12.1rpg) while earning invites to the NBA’s Basketball Without Borders camp and Adidas Next Generation Tournament in 2015. The 6’11” center was recruited by other high major programs in Maryland and Marquette before choosing Gonzaga, and was well-regarded by scouting services, receiving a 4-star ranking from 24/7 Sports and Rivals.
Due to several bouts of knee injuries and the fact that much of his meaningful basketball was played in the Danish 2nd Division, it’s hard to know just where Larsen’s game stands right now. While recovering from last offseason’s knee injury, Larsen worked hard on his body and packed on a solid 20-25 pounds of muscle (pushing him up to 240-250??), looking noticeably thicker in his upper body in the spring. However, thanks to the knee surgery, he missed out on several months of on-court practice and tutelage last winter that would have been vital in his development during the redshirt year.
After a truly golden generation of talented big men that include Domantas Sabonis, Zach Collins, Kelly Olynyk, and the biggest piece of them all in Przemek Karnowski, Gonzaga suddenly finds itself in the unfamiliar position of having a question mark at the center position.
That’s not to say the Zags have a barren cupboard inside. Johnathan Williams and Killian Tillie are very significant pieces, and both should be expected to have strong seasons ahead, but both players are more natural fits at the “4” spot. Larsen provides a different wrinkle than either one of them, and he’s Gonzaga best hope to fill the true center role that Mark Few values highly in his team structure.
Larsen could be Gonzaga’s next European success story. It just may not be this season. There’s a definitive role for Larsen to slide into this season, and he certainly has the talent and physical tools to be a contributor. But, he shouldn’t be expected to chase the legacies of Sabonis and Karnowski at this point in his career. A complementary role playing 15-18 minutes a game next season feels right for him as he eases into NCAA competition.
If the Zags don’t have a true center to take up significant minutes in the middle next season, it won’t be the end of the world. Most college basketball programs don’t have that luxury these days, and Mark Few still has plenty of talent to field versatile and fun lineups if Larsen isn’t ready for a big role. But if Larsen is ready, well, that’s a really fun thought to consider.