The last time we saw Joel Ayayi he was receiving the WCC Tournament MVP Award after Gonzaga’s 84-66 win over Saint Mary’s in the WCC Tournament Championship game.
The award put a nice exclamation point on a breakout season for Ayayi in which he proved to be a multi-dimensional threat for Mark Few. In just one year Ayayi went from averaging 5.6 mpg and scoring 39 total points as a redshirt freshman (a total he surpassed in just the three games of the Battle 4 Atlantis) to becoming a linchpin in Gonzaga’s lineup and playing 29.3 mpg while stuffing the stat sheet.
As a sophomore, Ayayi proved to be one the best rebounding guards in the country, averaging over six boards per game last season while threatening to put together a triple-double on several occasions. Ayayi’s performances were so strong that he was inserted into the starting lineup on a permanent basis at the start of December in place of senior transfer Admon Gilder. Even when he went through a scoring lull in February, Ayayi’s versatility allowed him to make an impact on every game and set the stage for him to take MVP honors in Las Vegas when he rediscovered his scoring touch.
In earning the WCC Tournament MVP award, Ayayi matched the accomplishments of fellow French Zags Killian Tillie and Ronny Turiaf. After testing the NBA waters, Ayayi elected to return to Gonzaga and now has a chance at accomplishing something neither of his compatriots were able to achieve—a national championship for Gonzaga.
Ayayi’s return, paired with the arrival of Jalen Suggs, provides Gonzaga with one of the most—if not the most—dynamic backcourts in the country. The duo is sure to give opponents fits at both ends of the floor while providing a lot of thrills for Gonzaga fans.
While the excitement and anticipation for the season is palpable, it’s important to remember that the majority of Gonzaga’s roster is quite young as two-thirds of the scholarship spots are made up of freshmen and sophomores in what is a very young team with big goals for the season. This will be Ayayi’s fourth year at Gonzaga, and he will need to be a more vocal and consistent leader as one of only three scholarship upperclassmen on the roster along with Corey Kispert and newcomer Aaron Cook.
A hard worker with a charismatic personality, something tells me that Ayayi won’t have any trouble as one of the team’s leaders in a season that has already proven to be difficult before a single minute has been played.
If Ayayi takes another big step forward, his all-around game makes him one of the favorites for WCC Player of the Year and he could end his season with an even better prize than the one he took home from Las Vegas eight months ago.