The wait for Zach Norvell was worth it. After sitting out a redshirt season to recover from knee surgery, the man they call “Snacks” staked his claim as next in a long line of talented scorers who have worn the Gonzaga jersey.
On a balanced squad that featured five players who averaged double digit scoring, Norvell’s 12.7ppg (third on the team behind Johnathan Williams and Killian Tillie), may not initially jump off the page. But it was clear by the end of the season that Norvell was up to the task of being a go-to option.
The month of November did not portend what was to come for Norvell. He struggled to figure out his role, and failed to make an impact at the PK80 Tournament where he was limited to just 10 total points (despite averaging 15mpg) in Gonzaga’s three games. It probably wasn’t the start to his collegiate career that he was hoping for, or that fans were expecting, considering his recruiting bona fides. But as the saying goes, the cream always rises to the top.
When Corey Kispert went down with an ankle injury just seven games into the season, Norvell slid into the starting lineup for the first time on December 1st against Creighton and never looked back. Norvell scored 19 points or more in four of his first five games as a starter, including a pair of 22 point outings in which he was the lone bright spot in ugly losses to Villanova and San Diego State.
Though Norvell suffered from bouts of inconsistency throughout the season—often from half to half—he provided Gonzaga with another dynamic offensive threat to occupy opposing defenses. Most importantly, he was willing and able to play the role of closer when the Zags were in need of a big bucket late in games. Even if his shot hadn’t been falling, Norvell exhibited no fear when his number was called.
Gonzaga’s time in Boise for the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament served as the perfect illustration of Norvell’s basketball character. Against UNC-Greensboro, he struggled from the field for much of the game (3-12 FG overall), but with an opening round upset staring them in the face, Norvell had no hesitation in hoisting up a clutch three with just 21 seconds left that sealed a gutsy win for the Zags. Norvell repeated his heroics just two days later against Ohio State, sparking a late run with a flurry of monster baskets en route to a career high 28 points (including 6-11 from three) after the Buckeyes clawed their way back in the game. That opening weekend in Boise was Norvell’s coming out party on a national stage, but for those that have been paying attention, it wasn’t a surprise.
It takes a special player to be able to deliver when the game is on the line. By the final month of the season, it was evident that the Zags had found their man. But Norvell’s impact isn’t limited solely to his jump shot. During the NCAA Tournament, Mark Few identified him as “our spiritual leader, he’s got a persona that we really need in our program right now. We have an overabundance of introverts, and that’s one thing he’s not.”
With the titles of leader and closer already to his name, Norvell is poised to become the next Gonzaga great. After announcing that he had no intention of leaving early just minutes after the Sweet 16 loss to Florida State, Norvell will be a key figure on what should be a preseason Top-10 team in the fall. And after being forced to watch the program’s first Final Four berth from the sidelines, Norvell will get his chance to put another one on Gonzaga’s resume.