The waiting is the hardest part. Due to the NCAA’s rule requiring transfers to take a redshirt season before being eligible to play, Brandon Clarke has had to wait over a year to play in a meaningful basketball game after announcing his transfer from San Jose State to Gonzaga in August 2017. With the season just around the corner, that wait is nearly over.
Clarke said Gonzaga “just felt right,” when he picked it over Oregon and Washington State. Gonzaga’s renowned redshirt program also didn’t hurt, and Clarke planned to build on All Mountain West first team honors with a year dedicated to getting bigger, stronger, and improving his shooting.
That redshirt year doesn’t consist of the coaching staff simply waving a magic wand over Clarke to turn him into an All-American (although I’m not ready to rule that out). Clarke’s spent a lot of grueling hours in the weight room and on the practice floor with no games to reward his immediate efforts or gauge his progress. Now, Clarke will get to unveil the fruits of his labor as the Zags hope to make another deep NCAA tournament run.
Johnathan Williams’ graduation opened up minutes in the rotation that should mostly be claimed by Clarke, and he’ll slide into a deep front court alongside Killian Tillie and Rui Hachimura that will once again give Gonzaga one of the nation’s most dynamic and skilled forward lines at both ends of the floor. When you factor in Jacob Larsen and incoming freshman Filip Petrusev, Mark Few and the coaching staff have a lot of different options in assembling the interior lineup.
The 6’8”, 210-pound Clarke was a dynamic two-way player while at San Jose State (he was All Mountain West first team and All-Defensive Team), averaging 17.3ppg, 8.3rpg, 2.6bpg, and 2.3apg during his sophomore campaign in 2016-17. He’s a natural replacement for Williams as he can score with his back to the basket, in transition, and can patrol the paint while having the athleticism to switch matchups throughout the lineup.
I don’t anticipate there being any need for an acclimation period for either Clarke or his teammates to integrate him once the games get going, and he will be an ideal fit for everything that Mark Few likes to run at both ends of the floor. That’s fortunate too, and highlights the benefits of bringing in talented transfer players that have already had success at the collegiate level rather than relying solely on incoming freshmen.
The Zags, in particular, don’t have the same margin for error at the beginning of the year during the non-conference slate as most top tier teams since the lion’s share of their marquee games come at the front end of the season. Though they have two “warm-up” games (no offense to Idaho State or Texas Southern), things get real quickly with a run of Texas A&M, the Maui Invitational field, Creighton, Washington, Tennessee and North Carolina over a four-week period.
Though Clarke didn’t see the same level of high end competition while at San Jose State, he’s spent three years with a Division I coaching and training staff (two seasons at San Jose St. plus his redshirt year), and it’s comforting to know that he will be mentally and physically ready to make an instant impact during a key part of the season for the Zags. Considering Gonzaga’s excellent recent history of impact transfers, there is a lot for Clarke to live up to. With the season inching closer, his opportunity is nearly here.