This upcoming season, the difference between Gonzaga being a Final Four contender or a team fighting to make the NCAA tournament could rest squarely on the shoulders of guard transfers Admon Gilder and Ryan Woolridge. Over the past two decades, transfers have played a huge part in the success of the Gonzaga Men’s basketball program. They’ve added depth to the roster, filled specific gaps in the starting line-up and often have been the centerpieces of the team.
A few years ago, I gave my list of the best players to transfer out of the program, now, here’s my list of the 10 best incoming transfers of the past 22 years. I could give you some BS on how I developed an algorithm with weighted variables to determine who made the list and their place on it, but no, I just put the names down on paper and used my best (and probably flawed) judgement. I look forward to seeing your opinions on who I left out or put in the wrong order.
10. Micah Downs University of Kansas
Gonzaga’s first McDonald’s All-American, 6’8” with long arms, a 37” vertical, a shot blocker with a sweet 3-point stroke he was possibly the best player any time he stepped on the floor. Only started 35 games in college but always a dangerous from deep and spectacular going to the rim. Micah attended seven high schools in three states, played half a year at Kansas before finding a home at Gonzaga. 2009 WCC Tournament MVP. Micah has spent the past decade as a human highlight film in the NBA D-League, Europe and South America.
9. Eric McClellan Tulsa/Vanderbilt
Played his first college season at Tulsa then transferred to Vanderbilt after a coaching change. Played a half season for Vandy and was their leading scorer until suspended for an academic infraction then released after a theft incident. Elated to be given another chance at Gonzaga, he was an enthusiastic and vocal (see HBO doc) team leader. When GU was in a must win the WCC tourney for NCAA berth position, EMac scored 26, 15 and 20 points in the three must games. Winner of the 2016 Defensive Player of the Year. Played professionally in Europe and is now playing in Mexico.
8. Byron Wesley USC
Top 100 player going into his senior season in college, chose Gonzaga because it gave him the best chance for significant minutes and to make a deep NCAA Tourney run. Both goals accomplished. Best player on a bad USC team, Byron gave the team a legitimate “wing” (10.6 pts, 4.7 reb, 2.3 ast) after the previous season’s starters of Pangos, Bell and Stockton. His seamless integration into an established team started opened the door for future top-quality transfers to GU. Named to 2nd Team All-WCC. Last season played professionally in Israel and Poland.
7. Jordan Matthews Cal
Graduated Cal in three years, finishing six classes in 12 weeks the summer before transfer. Will always be remembered for “the shot” against West Virginia but proved to be a strong all-round player and part of the nation’s best defensive team. Averaged 28 mpg, 10.6 ppg, shooting 40% form deep for the best team in Gonzaga history. Honorable mention All-WCC and 2017 NCAA West Region All-Tournament team. Played two years of NBA Summer League, one season in the G-League before playing last season in Denmark.
6. Kyle Wiltjer Kentucky
Described in a Grantland article as, “weak-hipped, stone-footed, hunch-shouldered…Big, but slow. Skilled, but immobile. A scorer, but a defensive cipher.” Harsh but accurate, though calling him just a “scorer” is an injustice, oh lordy can he fill it up. Won a National Championship at Kentucky then named SEC’s Sixth Man of the Year the next season before transferring to Gonzaga to play “a more significant role”. Immediate success at GU averaging 17 and 20 points per game his two seasons. Dropped 45 on Pacific, scoring over 30 points on six other occasions. Forced to play almost 34 minutes per game his senior season after Karnowski injury, he and Sabonis carried the team the entire year. Shot .449% from deep on 352 attempts while at GU.
5. Johnathan Williams III Missouri
Best player on a bad Mizzou team his sophomore season, he decided to transfer after the departure of the coaches who recruited him and his dissatisfaction with the team’s direction. Started his Gonzaga career shooting 2 for 12 in his first two games then went 24 for 30 over next four games to help Zags win AdvoCare Invitational. Dropped 39 on Florida, 19 rebounds at San Diego, 5 blocks against St Mary’s and his 19-point game against Xavier ensured a GU trip to the Final Four. Led team in scoring, rebounds and blocks his senior year while successfully guarding opponents with 50+ lbs on him. Soft spoken, great character and a great student, he recently signed with Maccabi Rishon LeZion of the Israel Premier League.
4. Brandon Clarke San Jose State
With apologies to Dominique Wilkins, this generation’s Human Highlight Film. San Jose was the only school to offer a scholarship thanks to a 6” growing spurt late in high school. Move to GU with a year off to work on his game led to ascendency. Incredibly dominant last season, with as many blocks (led the country with 117) as missed shots (led country in FG% with 68.7%). At 6’8” successfully guarded opponents as big as Florida State’s 7-foot-4 Christ Koumadje. His NCAA tournament 36-point, 5 block game against Baylor put him Shaq and David Robinson company while breaking Adam Morrison’s scoring record. MVP of the NBA Summer League.
3. J. P. Batista Barton County Community College
At 6’ 9” and a Nutter Butter under 270 lbs, Batista ruled the paint but also had a sweet outside shot and could run the floor like a wing. During his first (junior) season at Gonzaga, combined with Ronny Turiaf to give the Zags one of the best front lines in the country. During his senior season, he was the thunder to Adam Morrison’s lightning. Morrison deservedly got the headlines, but Batista was a double/double machine averaging just under 20 points and 10 rebounds per game. During his two years as a Zag, shot 60% from the field and 46% from beyond the arc with a 13 for 14 games against Pepperdine and 9 for 11 against WSU. Played professionally in France’s top league for nearly a decade, he’s played the last three seasons in his home Brazil.
2. Nigel Williams-Goss University of Washington
It was only one year, but what a year. Fleeing the dumpster fire which was his UW sophomore season (11-0 start, 5-15 finish), he hit the floor at Gonzaga immediately showing he was something special. Not only did he lead the Gonzaga’s best team ever in scoring (16.8 ppg) and assists (4.7), he averaged more rebounds per game (6.0) than Shem (5.8) and Zach Collins (5.9). Dropped 36 at San Francisco, 33 during an epic win at Provo, and 23 against Xavier and South Carolina to lead the Zags to the NCAA Championship Game. Only the cruelest of interventions (NWG ankle sprain, missed out-of-bounds call, Shem eye scratch, Collins’ phantom fouls) by the basketball gods prevented NWG from leading the Zags to the championship, but oh it was special and it was fun. NWG would be named an```` Academic All-American, consensus 2nd team All-American and be selected 55th in the NBA draft. After two spectacular years in Europe, it looks like he’ll be the backup point guard for the Utah Jazz next season.
1. Dan Dickau University of Washington
One of these things is not like the others: George Mason, Loyola Marymount, Florida Gulf Coast or Gonzaga. After consecutive appearances in the Elite Eight and Sweet Sixteen GU lost their two best players, Richie Frahm and Matt Santangelo to graduation. Gonzaga might have slipped back slipped back into WCC obscurity, no NCAA tournament appearance streak, no recruiting surge and the slipper slips off. Thankfully a sharp shooting guard who looked like Shirley Temple’s big brother had transferred from UW. The next season, Dickau (along with senior Casey Calvary, freshman Blake Stepp and the rest of the team) won the WCC regular season, WCC Tournament with a return to the Sweet Sixteen. Gonzaga was not a fluke. The next season Gonzaga won 29 games, Dickau averaged 21 ppg and was named a first team All-American. He goes on to play parts of six seasons in the NBA and be the subject of a huge Greg Heister man-crush.
Sorry, couldn’t find Gonzaga highlights
Here are the other transfers over the past 22-years not on the list above. A lot of great memories are triggered by these names:
Winston Brooks North Idaho College
Tony Skinner Northeastern JC
Erroll Knight UW
Nathan Doudney Texas Tech
Mamery Diallo Midland College
David Burgess BYU
Abdullahi Kuso Tallahassee CC
Ira Brown Phoenix College
Bol Kong Douglas College
Marquise Carter Three Rivers Community College
Guy Landry-Edi Midland College
Drew Barham Memphis
Gerard Coleman Providence
Angel Nunez Louisville
Jeremy Jones Rice
Alex Martin Johnson County CC
Geno Crandall North Dakota
Please let me know if I missed anyone.