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A Conversation with Gonzaga Guard, Joel Ayayi

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Ayayi is hoping his redshirt sophomore season is his breakout season

NCAA Basketball: Gonzaga at North Carolina Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

Joel Ayayi took no days off this offseason. He spent the majority of his summer representing his home country of France at the FIBA U19 World Cup. Joel averaged 20.9 PPG (third in the entire tournament), 5.6 RPG, and 3.4 APG while leading France to a 3rd place finish in the tournament. He also averaged 2.1 SPG and shot 50.9 FG% (ranked 10th overall). Along with incoming Gonzaga freshmen Oumar Ballo, Ayayi was named to the tournament’s All-Star Five.

Ayayi hopes that his strong play in FIBA will transition over to Gonzaga. Because Coach Few lost a majority of the players who took most of the minutes last season, he will be forced to plug in new guys into new roles this season. All signs point to Joel getting the opportunity to showcase what he has been working on over the summer.

Ryan Woolridge will be the starting point guard for the Bulldogs but it seems that Ayayi will finally get his chance as the backup point guard. The Frenchman only played about 5.6 MPG last season and that number should be increased significantly in 2019-2020. When I asked about his possible boost in minutes this upcoming season, Ayayi didn’t disagree.

Arden Cravalho: Hey Joel, you had a busy and productive offseason. What did you hope to improve upon going into the summer with the French U19 national team?

Joel Ayayi: I was working to become a better defender. I wanted be more effective on both sides of the floor. I know that when I am active and more engaged, great things happen. I feel as if I did improve on that during my time in Greece.

AC: What do you think the biggest difference is between the style of play in NCAA college basketball and FIBA basketball?

JA: It has to be the age/size of the players. When I’m representing my country in FIBA U19, I’m playing against kids my age. In college, I’m playing against grown men who are older and stronger than me. It has taken time for me to get used to it but I believe I’m fully adjusted now.

Another big difference when playing in Europe versus America is that there is less one-on-one game in Europe.

AC: Oumar Ballo (Mali) and Filip Petrusev (Serbia) also played in the FIBA Under 19 tournament. What did you see from them in the tournament and what will they be bringing to the team this upcoming season?

JA: Oumar is a physical big and great rim-protector. I only saw a bit from him but I’m excited to see what he contributes to the program. Filip is a big-time offensive threat. He can score on all three levels and he is a polished, European center. You will see him become more assertive and act more of leader for Gonzaga.

AC: You have had a lot of opportunities in the past two seasons to learn from the upperclassmen. What is the most important piece of information you have taken away from those ahead of you in the depth chart?

JA: I learned a lot from Josh Perkins and Silas Melson. They both played on the biggest stage and always were composed, even in practice. That was the most important thing I took away from those guys. They also told me that the team always comes first and I still believe that to this day.

AC: It seems like a good amount of college basketball writers/fans think you are set for a breakout season in your redshirt sophomore campaign. What do you have to say when you hear that?

JA: I hear all that. I have been working hard ever since I got to Gonzaga. Even though the fans don’t see it because I haven’t been getting too much time on the court, I want them to know that I’m putting the work in and my time will be coming very soon.

AC: You obviously have the talent and skills to be a starter on many other teams across the country but the Gonzaga coaching staff rarely rushes younger players into big roles. Do you feel as if this is the season that Few lets you loose and you get more time on the court?

JA: I will be getting more minutes this season so the fans will get more of a chance to see me in action. You got to pay your dues the first couple seasons but now is the time for me to showcase my talents. The most important thing though is to win games so that’s what really matters above all else.

AC: What are you expecting from your team in the 2019-2020 season? What kind of goals have you set for yourself?

JA: I think we can shock a lot of critics this season. Obviously, on paper, we don’t have as talented of a team as we have had in the past but we’re going to shock some people. We consider ourselves like underdogs and we like that. This is going to be a good season.

For me, I just want to do my best and help the team in anyway I can.

AC: Appreciate you giving me your time, Joel. I’ll be keeping a close eye on you and I wish you good luck next season.

*Arden Cravalho is a Gonzaga University graduate from the Bay Area... Follow him on Twitter @a_cravalho