18-year-old Filip Petrusev should have had an easy freshman season. Clarke, Rui and Tillie would split time in the post while he battled with Jacob Larsen over any spare minutes. He might even redshirt. He could get stronger, gain some weight, work on his offensive moves and improve his defense while easing into D-1 basketball. Well, we all know what happened next.
Larsen quits, Tillie has surgery and suddenly Petrusev is averaging 15 minutes per game in November and December, including dropping 11 points on Duke, the greatest team in the history of college basketball (right ESPN).
Petrusev excelled in a sink or swim situation. During those 15 minutes mentioned above, he was averaging 8.8 points per game and 3.7 rebounds including filling-up the stat sheet against Texas Arlington with 14 points, 3 rebounds, 3 blocks and 2 assists in only 17 minutes of play. He proved he could score against anyone in a variety of ways; back to the basket, jumpers and floaters in the lane and hitting the occasional 3. It looked like he was going to be a bone fide star until a convergence of circumstances conspired to take his minutes in the second half of the season.
First, Rui and Clarke proved to be two of the best players in the country with Rui especially gaining late season minutes. Second, guard centric Few started playing four guards when one of the two bigs sat. Three, teams saw a flaw in Petrusev’s post defense and let their center’s attack him one on one with a degree of success. Finally, Tillie’s late season return coincided with Few’s annual shortening of the bench. We’d have to wait until this year to again see him get big minutes.
I mentioned Jacob Larsen in the first paragraph for a reason, I think his loss hindered Filip’s defensive development. European bigs tend to develop complete offensive games at a younger age, playing team-oriented offense and help defense with less one-on-one play. If Larsen stuck around, Filip would have a true post player to practice against with those two fighting each other for minutes. His one-on-one post defense would have improved. Instead, he had to spend practice trying to guard Rui and Clarke, something the rest of college basketball couldn’t do in games. A lack of big and talented post player to practice against won’t a problem this upcoming season.
This summer, he had a great tournament at the FIBA U19 finishing 6th in scoring (19.4 ppg), 3rd in rebounds (10.1), tied for 4th in blocks (2) while tying for first in Efficiency Per Game (27) with some guy named Oumar Ballo (who was 1st in rebounds and blocks). According to the official Gonzaga roster, he’s also gained 10 lbs.
Expect Filip to start at center this season with he and Killian Tillie making an extremely formidable front line. He declared for the NBA draft, talked to the scouts, so he knows where he needs to improve. He’s too talented and too smart not to work hard to do it.
This season, he’ll be a year smoother offensively and fully adjusted to the speed of D-1 basketball. He’s a great finisher at the rim, an outstanding free throw shooter (.853%) and a good rebounder at 9.5 per 40 minutes. He averaged 2.6 assists per game at FIBA so hopefully we’ll see a demonstrable improvement in his passing out of the post. Watching him work the high/low with Tillie/Zakharov/Timme/Ballo will be a thing of beauty. He’s good at setting screens and very mobile. These attributes along with his outside shooting should allow him to excel at running the pick and roll or pick and pop with Woolridge and Gilder. It’s gonna be fun.