Killian Tillie would probably be the first to say that from an individual standpoint, his junior campaign was not what he envisioned when he decided to return to Gonzaga and forego testing the NBA Draft waters last summer.
And how could it be? A pair of foot injuries limited him to 15 games, zero starts, less than 17 minutes per game, 6.2 ppg, and 3.9 rpg. While Gonzaga was able to get by with Rui Hachimura and Brandon Clarke carrying a heavy load for the frontcourt, the flashes Tillie showed when he was healthy made you wonder what could have been if he had a healthy season.
Tillie’s injury-marred season not only deprived him of the opportunity to fulfill the significant role he was expected to have for Gonzaga, but also caused his NBA stock to drop precipitously. After his sophomore season, the 6’10” forward was considered by many to be a first round NBA Draft prospect thanks to a diverse offensive skillset that fit the modern NBA along with the ability to defend both the perimeter and post despite lacking elite athleticism. Those traits are still there, but so are questions about Tillie’s expanding injury history. Couple that with a lost season where scouts and draftniks did not get the chance to watch him produce against other NBA talents, and it’s not terribly surprising that he’s now considered to be a late second-rounder.
The NBA isn’t the only game in town, however, and I don’t believe Tillie would be opposed to simply beginning his professional career in Europe if the NBA feedback isn’t strong. You couldn’t blame him for going that route either, as the impact his injuries have had on his collegiate career make crystal clear how fleeting the opportunities to be a professional athlete really are and how small the window is for these guys to make money.
Despite all the adversity and disappointment he had to deal with, Tillie demonstrated tremendous character and the intangibles that have made him a valued member of the program for the last three seasons. He never pouted, was always present to support his teammates, and worked hard during both of his rehab stints to get back and help his team instead of shutting it down to protect his future.
If Tillie decides to pursue his professional opportunities and not return for his senior season, it would be completely understandable and I’m sure he would have the full support of the coaching staff. But, he may ultimately decide to return to Gonzaga and be the anchor for a team that will experience major transition. Should he do so, the Zags will once again be a legitimate top-10 team (with a mentor for all the incoming big men) and Tillie will have the chance to be the focal point of Gonzaga’s offense for the first time in his career. A great, and healthy, season with Gonzaga could certainly push him comfortably back into the NBA conversation.
Tillie has been Mark Few’s “problem-solver” for three seasons. Now, he has his own problem to solve in deciding where he wants to be next season. All of Tillie’s options have merit, but only he knows what is best for him.