It is incredibly rare and challenging for a college basketball program to sustain success in the manner that Gonzaga has over the last 20+ years. The level of difficulty increases tenfold for a program in a mid-major conference that operates in an NCAA structure designed to keep it a step (or several) below the “blue bloods” of the college basketball world. To achieve what Gonzaga has achieved over the last decade, there needs to be synergy between the University administration, the Athletic Director’s office, and the coaching staff in order to nurture an environment that ensures everyone is pulling in the same direction. And most importantly, to get wins, a program needs studs.
Fortunately, for Gonzaga fans, the program has been flush with incredibly talented athletes since its run began in the late 1990s. As the program’s star has risen, so too have the caliber of players that have donned the Gonzaga jersey. Going back through Gonzaga’s rosters over the last 10 years is a wonderful exercise, and a fun walk down memory lane. The program saw four players named as All-America selections (Kelly Olynyk, Kyle Wiltjer, Nigel Williams-Goss, and Rui Hachimura), had seven players selected in the NBA draft—including its first one-and-done (Zach Collins), and had several record breaking performances.
Indeed, the 2010s proved to be a fantastic era of basketball for Gonzaga. Naming an All-Decade team of Zags has proven to be a near impossible task, but I took a crack at it.
There are a number of methods and metrics that could be used to complete this exercise. Do you try to assemble a group that would be a sensible basketball fit if they were tasked with actually playing together? What about best individual seasons, or longevity within the program? Or, do you simply try to put together a pure list of the five best basketball players? I tried balancing all of these considerations together, and here’s what I came up with (best season at Gonzaga in parentheses):
Guard - Nigel Williams-Goss (2016-2017: 16.8 ppg, 6 rpg, 4.7 apg; 16-17 Second Team All-American)
Nigel’s impact was incredible even though he only played for one season (though he was at Gonzaga for two years after accounting for his redshirt season). He was the perfect conductor for the deepest and best team Mark Few has ever assembled. A truly complete player, Nigel led the Final Four team in scoring and assists, while coming in second in rebounding. Oh, and he was a pretty talented defender too. Despite his sensational production, Nigel’s greatest contribution may have been his leadership. He is the type of player every coach hopes to build their team around, and he was the perfect player at the perfect time to help Gonzaga achieve its Final Four breakthrough.
Guard - Kevin Pangos (2011-2015: 12.8 ppg, 3.8 apg, 2.8 rpg; 14-15 WCC Player of the Year)
Gonzaga’s all-time leader in three pointers made (322) and a four-year starter, Pangos was a cornerstone for the program as it transitioned into the juggernaut it is today. As reliable and intelligent a basketball player as you’ll find, Pangos would serve as a great complement to NWG in the All-Decade backcourt and it’s a shame they just missed playing together in real life. Pangos helped start Gonzaga’s ongoing streak of second weekend tournament appearances as a senior in 2014-15 when he helped take the Zags to an Elite 8 berth where they lost to the eventual national champions.
Forward - Rui Hachimura (2016-2019: 12.1 ppg, 4.4 rpg; 18-19 First Team All-American; 18-19 WCC Player of the Year)
In three years at Gonzaga, Hachimura made quantum leaps in development that saw transform from an extremely raw talent to the No. 9 pick in the NBA Draft who is carrying the basketball hopes of an entire nation. Hachimura represents another feather in the cap for a staff that has proven to be the best at identifying and nurturing international talent. When he arrived as a freshman, it was evident how physically gifted he was and how far he had to go in learning how to play basketball. By the team he departed as a junior, Hachimura was one of the best players in the country and still only scratching the surface of his potential.
Forward - Domantas Sabonis (2014-2016: 13.5 ppg, 9.4 rpg, 1.3 apg; 2x NCAA Tournament All-Region Team)
No one’s fire burns brighter than Domas. As the son of an all-time basketball great and essentially Lithuanian basketball royalty, Sabonis could have shown up to Gonzaga with an entitled attitude. Instead, we saw one of the humblest and hardest working talents to ever come through The Kennel. An absolute beast inside who was rarely beaten for a bucket or loose ball, Sabonis nearly doubled his production between his freshman and sophomore seasons. His competitive willpower fueled the Zags during the difficult 2015-16 campaign when the team had to reconfigure itself on the fly after losing Przemek Karnowski to a season ending back injury early in the season. I will never, ever begrudge a player for leaving early to go to the NBA, but Sabonis also represents the biggest “what if?” for me, as one more year in Spokane could have delivered a national championship (or even two).
Center - Przemek Karnowski (2012-2017: 9.8 ppg, 5.4 rpg, 1.1 rpg)
One of my absolute favorite Zags of all time and a giant both as an athlete and human being, Karnowski left Gonzaga as the winningest NCAA Division I basketball player of all time with 137 W’s on his resume. A throwback style of big man in an era of uptempo position-less basketball, Karnowski was more than just a space eater in the middle paint. One of the best passing big men to come through the collegiate ranks, few teams had an answer for Karnowski. His skills and basketball IQ allowed Gonzaga to attack opponents in a wide host of ways, and I’d bet every single Zag who played with him would agree that he was the ideal teammate to have on and off the floor with you.
Guard - Josh Perkins (2014-2019: 10.2 ppg, 4.7 apg, 2.8 rpg)
A four-year starter and the program’s all time assists leader. Perkins left Gonzaga with the second most wins in D1 history behind only his teammate and buddy, Przemek Karnowski.
Forward - Elias Harris (2009-2013: 13.8 ppg, 7.3 rpg, 1.3 apg)
Harris was incredibly reliable and consistent throughout his Gonzaga career. He had the chance to make the jump to the NBA after his freshman campaign, but he stayed in Spokane for all four years and started 133 of his 135 collegiate games.
The second most efficient season in Division I in the 2010s and Gonzaga’s leader for most blocks in a single season (117). He would have assuredly been the program’s all time leader if he had played one more season. Clarke is a human highlight reel and one of the most exciting players to ever play for Gonzaga. No idea how he didn’t land on an All-American team after his junior season.
Forward- Kyle Wiltjer (2014-2016: 18.6 ppg, 6.3 rpg, 1.7 apg; 14-15 Second Team All-American)
A professional bucket getter. Few are as gifted in the art of scoring as Wiltjer, and he fulfilled his potential after trading in Kentucky for Gonzaga.
Forward/Center- Brandon Clarke (2018-2019: 16.9 ppg, 8.6 rpg, 3.2 bpg; 18-19 WCC Defensive Player of the Year and Rookie of the Year)
Forward/Center- Kelly Olynyk (2009-2013: 12.8 ppg, 3.8 apg, 2.8 rpg, 41.5 3P%; 12-13 First Team All-American; 12-13 WCC Player of the Year)
Somehow, Gonzaga’s player of the decade is on the Second Team. That’s how good the Zags had it in the 2010s.