Earlier this week, the Gonzaga women picked up what could end up as their first five-star recruit in program history. The Gonzaga men are bringing, on paper, their best class ever in the Fall. It’s a golden era in recruiting for Mark Few, Lisa Fortier and their staffs.
Usually, May is a dull month in the college basketball season. Everyone waits until June for draft decisions, and the transfer portal is the only thing worth paying attention to. So here I am to try and provide some (hopefully) healthy debate.
Today’s exercise is to rank all 22 of Mark Few’s recruiting classes, from his first season in 1999 to his latest class in 2020. These rankings include transfers from the year they entered the program. For example, Brandon Clarke transferred in with the 2017 class before sitting out a year. Grad transfers like Admon Gilder would be part of the 2019 class. I only included specific walk-ons.
These are my own personal rankings and they are a combination of talent, success, and what they meant to the program as a whole. As I was going through this, there was a clear cut number one and two. The 3-10 classes were nearly impossible to differentiate from because you can make a case for any of them. Without further ado, let’s get to it.
22. Class of 2010 - Marquise Carter, Mathis Keita, Mathis Monninghoff, Keegan Hyland
Carter had a huge impact at the end of the 2011 season. After taking over a starting spot in February, Carter averaged 11.5 points and 3.4 assists the final 12 games of the season, including winning WCC Tournament MVP and scoring a career-high 24 points in Gonzaga’s tournament win over St. John’s. Without him, Gonzaga may have missed the tournament in 2011 altogether. Unfortunately, Keita and Monninghoff both left the program after two fairly uneventful seasons and Hyland transferred before ever playing a game.
21. Class of 2008 - Demetri Goodson, Grant Gibbs, Andy Poling, Mike Hart (W)
Goodson was certainly never a huge scorer, but he was a pest defensively and provided Gonzaga with one of their most memorable moments in tournament history with his game-winner over Western Kentucky. He would leave after three seasons to play football at Baylor. Gibbs transferred after his redshirt freshman season and would turn into a solid player at Creighton. Poling played six games as a redshirt freshman before transferring to D2 Seattle Pacific. The shining gem of the class was Mike Hart, who was recruited by the players in pick-up games more than the staff. They urged him to try out during the walk-on period and he found his way on the roster. After redshirting a year, he became perhaps the best glue guy in Gonzaga history his final two seasons in the program, culminating with a top ranking in 2013.
20. Class of 2013 - Kyle Wiltjer, Lucas Meikle, Ryan Edwards, Conor Griffin (W), Dustin Triano (W)
As a freshman class, this was a huge bust. Meikle left after his freshman season to play at Cal Poly. Edwards never developed the athleticism needed to succeed at a high level. Griffin was an insane athlete and provided some filthy dunk reels, but never made it past “end of game sub” status. Triano became part of the famous and entertaining Gonzaga bench mob for several years. This whole class is saved by Wiltjer, a historic transfer from Kentucky. After his redshirt year, he led the Bulldogs in points in back-to-back seasons, helping them get to their first Elite Eight in over a decade and another Sweet 16. He was named an All-American and has the second most total points in a season in Gonzaga history behind Adam Morrison.
19. Class of 2002 - Tony Skinner, Erroll Knight, Sean Mallon, Stephen Gentry (W)
This class didn’t have a star, but Skinner, Knight, and Mallon were three incredibly solid role players in their careers at Gonzaga. Skinner came in from the JUCO ranks and started 33 games in his two season in Spokane. He averaged a hair over nine points a game as a junior, but is probably most known for his insane performance against Arizona in their double overtime thriller. Knight transferred in from Washington and started 42 games his sophomore and junior seasons. His game-winning three at San Diego is still in the YouTube archives. Mallon, who is now coaching at Ferris High School in Spokane, was the perfect role player all four seasons he was a Zag. He became a consistent starter his final two years and was a workhorse. Gentry gets a nod because of his work on the coaching staff over the last decade.
18. Class of 2018 - Filip Petrusev, Greg Foster, Geno Crandall
It’s hard to really place this class somewhere. It’s possible this could go up a couple notches in Petrusev comes back to Spokane and helps lead them to a National Title. For now, he’s the star of a trio that could have been more. Without injuries, Crandall could have been what Gilder or Woolridge were for this past season’s team. With some more development, Foster could have been a guard off the bench in future years. Instead, Crandall was injured most of his lone season and never reached his potential and Foster transferred in hopes of more playing time.
17. Class of 2006 - Matt Bouldin, Theo Davis, Will Foster, Abdullahi Kuso
It feels like a class with Matt Bouldin should be higher on this list. But the careers of Davis and Foster weigh this back down a bit. Davis was a four-star recruit out of high school and turned down several major programs to play for the Zags. He got arrested with Josh Heytvelt for drug possession and only played four games before transferring. The 7’5 Foster just never panned out to much in his four seasons. Kuso was a solid role player after coming in from the JC ranks, but the class is highlighted by Bouldin. The four-star recruit was a four-year starter and won the WCC Player of the Year award in 2010. He remains eighth all-time in scoring at Gonzaga.
16. Class of 1999 - Dan Dickau, Zach Gourde, Jimmy Tricco, Germayne Forbes, Jay Sherrell
Unless you were a fan from the very beginning of the run, you may not recognize the last three names on this list. Tricco left after two seasons as a bench player to have a decent career at Duquesne. Forbes started a few games his redshirt freshman season but left after two years in the program for West Georgia, along with Sherrell. The shining stars were Dickau and Gourde, the latter of which remains one of the more unheralded players in program history. Gourde averaged 8.5 points over his four year career, playing in all 134 games. His junior season, he put up 13 points and six rebounds a game. He was a tremendous teammate and complemented Dickau in his two years in Spokane. We all know about Dickau. He was a consensus first-team All-American, conference player of the year, and remains the only player in Gonzaga history to hit nine threes in multiple games. Maybe more importantly, he became a huge transfer success story that has since become a calling card for the program.
15. Class of 2001 - Ronny Turiaf, Winston Brooks, Josh Reisman, Dustin Villepigue
You could certainly make an argument that this is a little too high for this group. Brooks was a fine starter his second year coming for the JUCO ranks while Reisman and Villepigue transferred after playing one season. Ronny Turiaf is the only reason this group is ranked this high, and not just because of his dominance. Turiaf won WCC Player of the Year as a senior in 2005. He averaged 15+ points each of his last three seasons, ranks seventh all-time in points, fifth in rebounds, third in blocks, and first, by a mile, in made free throws. But perhaps his biggest impact was the first huge international success story for Gonzaga. He paved the way for future stars who have taken Turiaf’s success and multiplied it. For that reason alone, Turiaf helps this become a top 15 class.
14. Class of 2012 - Przemek Karnowski, Drew Barham, Gerard Coleman, Angel Nunez, Rem Bakamus (W)
Speaking of those international big men, Karnowski came over from Poland and became not just an all-time Zag, but one of the most memorable college basketball faces in recent memory. Karnowski was a role player as a freshman on Gonzaga’s first number one seed team. He was a starter when Gonzaga finally broke through to the Elite Eight in 2015. And then he came back from a career-threatening injury to be a vital cog in the Zags National Runner-Up season in 2017. He ranks seventh all-time in field goal percentage, sixth in blocks, fourth in rebounds, and leads not just Gonzaga players but literally every player in the history of college basketball with 137 wins. He was a huge piece (literally) in the ascent of the modern day Bulldogs, and his charismatic personality puts him in the upper echelon of greats. He was great friends and Christmas Partners with Bakamus, who is easily in the Mount Rushmore of Gonzaga walk-ons. The trio of transfers in this class all had varying success, or lack thereof. Barham came from Memphis and was a generally fine role player who shot the heck out of the ball. Coleman had a lot of hype after averaging double figures at Providence, but never really fit in to Gonzaga’s style and averaged just six points off the bench his lone year in uniform. Nunez came in from Louisville and was incredibly gifted athletically, but never found any sort of consistency, and left after two lackluster seasons.
13. Class of 2005 - Jeremy Pargo, Micah Downs, Larry Gurganious, David Burgess, Mamery Diallo, Jordan Mast
The last four names on this list all had unremarkable careers. The last three were bench players and only played one season. Gurganious was a role player his sophomore season, but transferred to Riverside to finish his career. The class is only this high because of Pargo and Downs. The two of them were so important in transitioning Gonzaga from the Morrison years into the next decade of talent without missing a tournament. In their senior season, they helped Gonzaga get back to the Sweet 16. Pargo is probably still the most athletic guard in program history and he helped open the pipeline to Chicago. He started all 103 games his final three seasons, averaged double figures every year, and won conference player of the year as a junior. He’s fourth all-time in both assists and steals, the true testament to an all-around point guard.
12. Class of 2000 - Blake Stepp, Kyle Bankhead, Cory Violette, Alex Hernandez, Anthony Reason, Brian Michaelson (W)
Gonzaga was able to build upon their 1999 success with a solid class in 2000 that included three four-year players and two forgotten role players that transferred in and gave Gonzaga great minutes. Without this class, Gonzaga may have slipped back into where they were in the 90s. Instead, they continued forward, full speed ahead. Hernandez did a little bit of everything in his two seasons in Spokane. Reason became a starter his senior year and was an athletic wing that rebounded and defended extremely well. The other trio, along with Michaelson, became Mark Few’s first true group of “four-year guys.” Bankhead was one of the all-time great shooters in Spokane, finishing his career at a 45 percent clip, sixth in school history. Violette took over a starting spot his sophomore year and became a double-double machine. He led the WCC in rebounds and field goal percentage in 2004. He’s fourth all-time in rebounds, 10th in blocks, and recorded over 100 steals, which is insane for a 6’11 big man. And then there’s Blake Stepp, one of the all-time great Zags. He started 126 of his 128 games, averaged 13 points a game and won back-to-back WCC player of the year awards. He is third all-time in assists, second all-time in threes made, and holds the program’s single-game assist record with 16. He won 105 games in his career, which tied a school record at the time of his graduation. Despite an unfortunate NCAA Tournament career, Stepp remains one of the all-time greats.
11. Class of 2017 - Corey Kispert, Joel Ayayi, Brandon Clarke
When I was putting together this list, I started at the bottom and worked my way up. When I got to the final dozen classes or so, I stared at them and moved them around for hours. There are so many cases to make for so many classes. At one point, this class was up at the eight spot. I moved them back to 11 just because other classes ahead of them had more four-year players, even if they aren’t necessarily as talented. If Kispert and Ayayi both come back and lead Gonzaga to a Final Four run, this class will certainly shoot back up. As it stands, Kispert has been a three-year starter and really came into his own as a junior. Ayayi had an enormous breakout season as a redshirt sophomore, and Brandon Clarke had, analytically, the best season in Gonzaga history. His efficiency was insane and the impact he made with one season in uniform is matched by only one other player.
10. Class of 2015 – Jesse Wade, Nigel Williams-Goss, Johnathan Williams, Jeremy Jones
That one player is Nigel Williams-Goss. Nobody has had a greater impact in a one-year Gonzaga career than the point guard who led the Bulldogs to their only National Title game. He is the only player in Mark Few’s career to average 16+ points, six or more rebounds, and four or more assists in a season. His leadership was unparalleled and the image of him crying and being consoled by Mark Few is one of the most iconic images of the last 20 years. We know how much he put into that team and that season. Johnathan Williams also played a huge part, not just in that season, but the following one as well. With Domantas Sabonis leaving for the NBA Draft, the Zags had huge shoes to fill inside. Williams did his best to fill them. He joins Brandon Clarke and Ronny Turiaf as the only Zags to average 13+ points, eight or more rebounds, and more than a block per game for a season. He has the highest career defensive rating of any WCC player over the last 12 seasons. The guy right behind him in second place? Jeremy Jones. The Rice transfer played a role in three of the most successful teams in program history. His defense and efficiency played a huge role his senior season in 2019. In his three years at Gonzaga, he shot an incredible 66 percent inside the arc. These are three of most impactful transfers in program history and put this class in the top 10 despite the very short stay of Jesse Wade.
9. Class of 2003 - Adam Morrison, Derek Raivio, Nate Doudney, Calum MacLeod
I’m pretty sure this group would be a spot or two higher if Doudney didn’t tear his ACL. He was a promising player coming from Texas Tech, but just never recovered. He went into the poker circuit after basketball. MacLeod left after one season on the bench. But Morrison and Raivio? That’s a top 10 class just by themselves. Morrison’s junior season stands as one of the all-time great seasons in NCAA history. He helped elevate Gonzaga from cinderella story to a household brand. He’s one of just 13 players in the last 30 years to average at least 28 points and five rebounds in a season. Raivio was great alongside Morrison, but became a superstar the year after Morrison left. Raivio won conference player of the year in 2007 after averaging 18 points and shooting better than 40 percent from deep. He’s sixth all-time in threes, eighth in steals, and the greatest free throw shooter in school history by a wide margin. He’s second in the history of college basketball in free throw percentage at an astonishing 92.7 percent.
8. Class of 2004 - JP Batista, David Pendergraft, Josh Heytvelt, Pierre-Marie Altidor Cespedes
The success of the 2005 and 2006 teams would not have been possible without the contributions of JP Batista. The JC transfer was the perfect complement to Morrison and was a near automatic double-double every night. He finished his senior season averaging 19.3 points and 9.4 rebounds a game, the only player under Few to average 19/9 for a season. Pendo finished his four-year career as a 44 percent three-point shooter and started all 33 games his senior season. Heytvelt had probably the most roller coaster career of any player in the program. When he wasn’t in trouble, he was an absolute monster on the court. As a sophomore, he dominated second-ranked North Carolina in Madison Square Garden. His off-court problems were a story from there, but his senior season, he put it together, started all 34 games, led the team in scoring and helped the Zags get back to the Sweet 16. P-MAC started games on and off in his three seasons in Spokane, but was never much of a scorer. However, he did provide a memorable buzzer beater that lives in the archives. All four guys in this class had an impact in one way or another and truly none of them were busts.
7. Class of 2019 - Anton Watson, Drew Timme, Oumar Ballo, Martynas Arlauskas, Pavel Zakharov, Brock Ravet, Admon Gilder, Ryan Woolridge
If it weren’t for the two grad transfers, this class may not be in the top 10 yet based on results. With Gilder and Woolridge playing enormous parts in this past season’s success, the largest recruiting class in history slots in seventh. It’s very possible we look back in five years and see this as a top three class. Watson is a future NBA player. Timme looks like he’s next in line to be a dominant Gonzaga big man. Ballo is champing at the bit to show his monstrous size and elite skill. Arlauskas and Zakharov have the potential to be solid four-year team players. Unfortunately, Ravet’s departure creates a little bit of a stain, but the fact that this class helped the Zags stay in the top five most of the season despite losing pretty much their entire roster from the year prior is enough to keep this group in the top 10.
6. Class of 2020 - Jalen Suggs, Julian Strawther, Dominick Harris, Aaron Cook
It’s impossible to rank this class properly. On paper, they are the best recruiting class in Mark Few’s tenure. But they’ve played zero minutes on the court. So where can you possibly rank them? Is it fair to Kevin Pangos and Gary Bell to rank this group ahead of them given how much they impacted the program? How about Elias Harris and Kelly Olynyk? It’s hard for me to put this group top five without having played a game yet. However, the fact they are even in the conversation is a testament to their talent. Suggs is the first unanimous five-star recruit to land in Spokane. He should become the program’s second one-and-done prospect and has NBA potential written all over him. Harris and Strawther round out the Tricky Trio, and while both may not make a huge impact as freshmen, they both have NBA futures as well. When the training wheels come off in their sophomore seasons, they are going to be fun to watch. Cook is a grad transfer guard from Southern Illinois and looks to have an Admon Gilder-type impact as a sixth man off the bench.
5. Class of 2007 - Steven Gray, Austin Daye, Robert Sacre, Ira Brown
This class had a significant impact for several reasons. First, it included their first five-star prospect ever in Austin Daye. Say what you want about his motives and style of play, but he was extremely talented and the fact that they landed him was a huge deal. The other reason is because Gray and Sacre were the two program guys that transitioned from the Adam Morrison era to the Pangos/Bell era. Gonzaga lost in the first round in back-to-back years after Morrison left. Gray, Sacre, and Daye helped Gonzaga get to the Sweet 16 in 2009 and they haven’t lost a first round game since. Gray led the team in scoring his senior season and scored a team-high 15 points in the WCC Title game to help Gonzaga make the tournament. Without him, the Zags are sweating it out on Selection Sunday. After his redshirt season, Sacre averaged double figures three years in a row. He’s second all-time in blocks and third in made free throws. He has since become an incredible ambassador for the program and is part of the entertaining Sac and Jack podcast. Oh yeah, and Ira Brown was a dunking machine.
4. Class of 2009 - Elias Harris, Kelly Olynyk, Sam Dower, David Stockton, Bol Kong, Manny Arop, GJ Vilarino
This class had a little bit of everything: Extreme talent in Harris, who unexpectedly stayed all four years, the greatest redshirt story in history in Olynyk, who influenced the program for years to come, and then two four-year players who played enormous roles as their careers went on. Kong, Arop, and Vilarino all had talent, but not enough to carve out enough consistent minutes to stick around. But Harris, Olynyk, Dower and Stockton were all influential in taking Gonzaga to new heights. After being fairly stagnant for a few years, they exploded in the 2012-13 season to the top of the AP Poll for the first time in school history. Olynyk’s breakout season is one of the greatest stories of Mark Few’s career. Olynyk is one of just seven players in the last 30 years to average 17 points and seven rebounds while shooting at least 62 percent from the field and 75 percent from the line. He had one of the most efficient seasons in modern college basketball history. Harris finished his career fourth in points, second in rebounds, and was the winningest player in program history when he graduated. That record was immediately broken by Dower and Stockton the following season. Dower led the team in points and rebounds per game his senior season. His three-pointer in the final seconds at Santa Clara was one of the more memorable moments of the 2014 season. One of the memories that beats it? Stockton’s game winner against Santa Clara in the WCC Tournament. Poor Kerry Keating.
3. Class of 2011 - Kevin Pangos, Gary Bell Jr, Kyle Dranginis, Ryan Spangler, Guy Landry Edi, Chris Sarbaugh
Gonzaga kind of went in two-year waves, which may explain why they were so good every other year for basically the entirety of the 2010s. The 2007 class paved the way to 2009, which paved the way to 2011, a class that arguably saved the program from getting stuck in neutral forever. It could have been even better if Spangler had stayed, but he left for Oklahoma and had a nice career over there. Pangos, Bell, and Dranginis were part of the transition from solid mid-major into the beginning of a powerhouse. Personally, I think Pangos and Bell could be the two most important players in Mark Few’s career. This group also started the change from motion to a ball screen heavy offense that has since been perfected. Dranginis is probably at the top of the chain of most underrated players Few has ever had. He wasn’t a scorer, but always seemed to hit big shots. He played great defense and did everything asked of him. Bell is one of the better on-ball defenders of his time. Sometimes fans wished he would be more aggressive offensively, but you saw the difference in the team’s performance when he was off the court (ex: Wichita St). Pangos started his freshman year with a bang, nailing a program-best nine threes in a game against Washington State. He started every game the rest of his career. He made more threes than anyone who’s put on a Bulldog uniform. He’s fifth in points, third in steals, and sixth in assists. Most importantly, he’s tied for fourth in wins with Dranginis. The 2014-15 team is one of two Mark Few teams to win 35 games in a season. After years of struggling to get out of the first weekend, they broke through to the Elite Eight and were a missed layup away from potentially beating Duke and getting to a Final Four. They laid the groundwork for the next generation of stars that have since turned Gonzaga into borderline Blue Blood status.
2. Class of 2014 - Josh Perkins, Silas Melson, Domantas Sabonis, Bryan Alberts, Byron Wesley, Eric McClellan
The top two classes for me were non-negotiable. Just look at the names on this list. The all-time assists leader at Gonzaga, a four-year stud, an NBA All-Star, and two impact transfers, the latter of which saved the NCAA Tournament streak in 2016. In a different era, perhaps Alberts would have played more, but he never quite found a role. Josh Perkins has played more games in a Gonzaga uniform than anyone ever has. He also faced more scrutiny than anyone ever has. He came in as an incredibly hyped recruit from Colorado and he finished his career three wins shy of Karnowski’s record. He has more assists than any Zag, both in a career and in a single season. He’s fifth in threes made and second in steals behind John Stockton. However polarizing he was to the fan base, he is one of the most impactful players of all time. Melson was a four-year role player who became a starter his senior year. He rarely turned the ball over, was a pest defensively, and shot 38 percent from deep his final two years. After thriving off the bench as a true freshman, everyone knew Sabonis was in for an enormous sophomore season. Here is the full list of players the last 20 years who averaged more than Sabonis’ 17.6 points and 11.8 rebounds on 61 percent shooting: Blake Griffin, Andrew Bogut, DeAndre Ayton, Marvin Bagley, and Chris Kaman. That quite the group to be associated with. He’s now an NBA All-Star putting up triple doubles. Wesley started all 38 games on that Elite Eight team after grad transferring from USC. He averaged double figures and was a true slashing wing Gonzaga hadn’t had in quite awhile. After coming in from Vanderbilt, McClellan had one of the best WCC Tournaments in Gonzaga history. He averaged 20.3 points, 3.7 rebounds, 2.3 assists, went 18-for-18 at the free throw line and turned the ball over *one time*! His out-of-body experience helped GU beat BYU and Saint Mary’s and continue their NCAA Tournament streak. He also went on to score 22 points in the win over Utah to get Gonzaga to a second straight Sweet 16.
1. Class of 2016 - Zach Collins, Rui Hachimura, Killian Tillie, Zach Norvell, Jacob Larsen, Jordan Mathews
It’s not even close. This should be the unanimous number one. A five star prospect who became the school’s first one-and-done, two international players who blossomed into superstars, a sharpshooter from Chicago who went to the NBA, and the guy who hit the biggest jump shot in Gonzaga history. What an unbelievable crop of talent - four NBA guys and a guy who has G-League experience (Mathews).
It’s unfortunate that one of the last memories of Collins is that he was screwed out of playing time in his final collegiate game because of
questionable awful foul calls. He was a monster. His semi-final performance against South Carolina (14 points, 13 rebounds, 6 blocks) was transcendent.
Rui had a plan set for him from the moment he stepped on campus and it came to fruition perfectly. He broke out as a sixth man as a sophomore and then exploded as a starter his junior year. He led the team in scoring and was the best player on the floor when Gonzaga beat Duke in Maui.
Tillie’s career was a roller coaster. He should have left for the NBA after an explosive sophomore year, but injuries cost him a chance to work out for teams in back-to-back seasons and he stayed in Spokane for four years. It’s depressing, but perhaps fitting, that his career ended with the Coronavirus canceling the NCAA Tournament and robbing him a chance to end his career on his terms. He’s the only Zag to go 5-for-5 from deep in a game, and he did it twice... on back-to-back nights.
Norvell was a shooter in every sense of the word. “Shoot to get hot, shoot to stay hot” was definitely a motto. But at the end of the day, he was clutch. He hit the dagger against UNC Greensboro and Ohio State in the 2018 tournament and then put the nail in the coffin of Florida State in 2019. He also had two second halves to remember against Creighton in consecutive years.
Mathews came over from Cal and started for the National Championship team. He averaged double figures, but will forever be known as the man who hit the biggest jumper in school history - one that still gives fans goosebumps no matter how many times they watch it.
There you have it. All 22 Mark Few recruiting classes. Debate amongst yourselves in the comments and tell me what I got right and what I got wrong. Stay safe and healthy, everyone.