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A few Gonzaga players have a decision to make

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Next year’s team will look drastically different from this year’s squad.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-West Regional-Gonzaga vs Florida State Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports

The Gonzaga Bulldogs season ended up on Saturday in the Elite Eight. With that defeat, it is now time to do what we can do best, look forward. Although the Zags’ future is quite bright, especially considering the incoming recruiting class, the team will look drastically different.

Such is the case when your team is good. You don’t have the success the Zags have enjoyed as of late without a few early departures to the NBA Draft. In 2017, it was the first go-round with the process, as the Zags lost a freshman Zach Collins and a junior Nigel Williams-Goss to the NBA.

This year, the Zags could be losing six players from the team. Josh Perkins, Geno Crandall, and Jeremy Jones will all graduate. It is the other three names that have the decisions to make.

Rui Hachimura

The junior forward from Japan will be the first Japanese-born player ever drafted by the NBA. It is really a fore-gone conclusion that Hachimura will join the NBA Draft, and it is more a question of when, not if. The junior forward led the Zags with 19.7 points this season. Hachimura’s time at Gonzaga has been marked by steady progress, a definitive three-year plan the coaching staff stuck with. He has intriguing NBA potential because of his natural ability to create his own offense. There will be defensive concerns with Rui in the NBA, and he will probably need a bit of time to adapt to the tougher competition. That said, Rui’s growth this year has been such an exciting aspect of GU basketball to watch, and a team that drafts Rui will be in for the same treat as well.

Brandon Clarke

The other junior forward for Gonzaga sprang out of nowhere and into the NBA this season, hands down. Clarke narrowly finished the season with more blocks (114) than missed field goals (117). His line of 16.9 points, 8.6 rebounds, and 3.1 assists is a GM’s dream. He showcased it all against Baylor in the NCAA Tournament, becoming just the third player to score at least 35 points and register five blocks.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-West Regional-Gonzaga vs Texas Tech Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports

Clarke’s achievements will constantly go under the radar because of Zion Williamson this season, but he was just as good as the Duke phenom across the board. Granted, Clarke is also currently 22 years old, which is why you won’t see him at the top of the draft board. His shot remains a bit unorthodox, his range a bit questionable, but you can’t deny his power around the hoop, both on the offensive and defensive end. Like Rui, Clarke should be a first-round draft pick.

Killian Tillie

Finally, we have the full-blown question mark. Tillie was supposed to come back and lead this offense after a stellar sophomore year. Unfortunately, he averaged just 16.6 minutes per game and only appeared in fifteen games this season, due to multiple injuries. After his sophomore campaign, I would’ve said there is no question about seeing Tillie in the NBA. After all, he appeared in plenty of draft boards last season, and his hip injury before the Florida State game is essentially what derailed his NBA plans.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-West Regional-Gonzaga vs Texas Tech Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports

Obviously, this year, Tillie did not do enough of anything to secure his future. However, I would not be surprised to see him depart early from Gonzaga as well for a career in Europe. Tillie, as a French national, would fit right into the EuroLeague almost immediately, and the payday is hard to ignore. If the NCAA paid athletes anything, I think we might see Tillie in a GU uniform for his senior year. But the NCAA doesn’t, and instead, we see players like Tillie trying to figure out how to financially maximize their career.

Tillie just saw first hand how easily it can all be taken away. Playing in Europe would be returning to home and making money. I cannot fault Tillie for taking care of himself.