Gonzaga is entering the season with 4 starters gone and ample minutes available. Five-star guard and wing Bree Salenbien still is a ways from joining the team in drills and contact play. That turnover and shallow roster make players taking the next step extremely important. And the player with the clearest ascension continues to be Yvonne Ejim.
Ejim offers two-way athleticism that is rarely seen at the mid-major level of women’s basketball. She finished in the 96th percentile in blocks per game and in the 94th percentile for field goal percentage. Her 10.1 points per game was the fourt most on the team, even though she made the second-most field goals.
Head coach Lisa Fortier has shown a preference for switchability and a team approach on both ends of the court, so it’s difficult to envision just how much Ejim’s offensive output could balloon, outside of maintaining her usage with a higher minute count. But she has the game to do it. The Sixth Woman of the Year for last season’s WCC honors is already picked to be first-team all-conference.
Ejim is a Swiss Army Knife of skill sets. She’s likely the best rebounder on the team, she’s a solid rim protector, she’s solid guarding the perimeter and passing lanes, great at attacking the basket and hitting second chance points. She often was a spark plug off of the bench, boosting the offense and defense simultaneously.
The losses of Melody Kempton and Anamaria Virjoghe make Ejim’s dependability all the more vital. The 6’1 junior is a consistent and solid rebounder and switchable defender, averaging 5.6 rebounds in just 20.8 minutes per game. It’s by far the most minutes returning in the frontcourt as well, with her frontcourt pairing of redshirt junior Eliza Hollingsworth playing 11.5 minutes per game.
The switchability this Gonzaga team could eventually play with when Salenbien returns makes Ejim’s tenacity and ability to play big key for the Zags to maintain their elite defense. A lineup of Salenbien, Ejim and McKayla Williams offers a length that is rare on a mid-major team but also forces Ejim to play in the post against larger foes.
What will be key is Ejim limiting her foul rate. She averaged 2.8 per game last season in that designated first-off-the-bench role and defending only gets more difficult when defending bigger post players.
It will be exciting to see if the Canadian is up for the job, as she’s proven to continue to excel when more and more is asked of her. If she is, Gonzaga continues to dance and this program continues to develop and adapt to the modern game.