Monday, July 15, 2024

THE CHEAP SEATS with STEVE CAMERON: Even more good news for Gonzaga

| June 24, 2020 1:26 AM

There’s no shortage of things to talk about today, so we ought to get straight to it.

The biggest item locally has to be the news that Andrew Nembhard, a terrific 6-5 point guard who has played two years at Florida, is transferring to Gonzaga.

I’ll write a full “Zaqs Tracker” feature on how things are falling into place, and where Nembhard fits in, sometime soon.

But the short version is that, assuming there’s some kind of college hoops season this year, Gonzaga is set at point guard with five-star frosh Jalen Suggs — along with a capable backup in grad transfer Aaron Cook Jr.

For the 2021-22 season, though, Suggs is likely to be in the NBA and Cook will be gone through graduation.

Coach Mark Few has his quality ducks lined up with the addition of Nembhard, another NBA hopeful who would run the offense for at least one year — and maybe two.

This addition, besides making yet another statement on the national scene (Nembhard was recruited hard by Duke, both out of high school and with this transfer), really helps the Zags continue luring some of the very best available athletes — perhaps including Suggs’ 7-foot former teammate Chet Holmgren, who will be close to the No. 1 prep recruit next year.

There’s even more good news…

ITEM: Gonzaga is better positioned than most schools to hit the ground running if there is some kind of season this year.

Many programs are in a bind because their international players went home for the summer, and now they’re finding it hard to get back into the United States.

New restrictions are making it even tougher for foreigners to enter (or re-enter) the country.

The Zags don’t have a problem with that.

“All of our international student-athletes stayed right here,” said Gonzaga AD Mike Roth. “We might not have realized what a big deal that could be a couple of months ago, but we certainly do now.”

The basketball program has four returning squad members from outside the country: Joel Ayayi, Oumar Ballo, Martynas Arlauskas and Pavel Zakharov.

Plus, incoming freshman Julian Strawther technically has competed in world events for Puerto Rico (though he lives in the U.S.), and Nembhard is a Canadian national team member from Aurora — just outside Toronto.

ITEM: Maybe, just maybe, we’ll now see a baseball season, assuming the players accept MLB’s edict that there will a 60-game sprint to the playoffs, beginning July 24.

Nothing is certain with these idiotic warring sides, but…

If even a short season is completed, the Mariners figure to benefit as much as anyone — except maybe teams that reach what will be a very strange World Series.

That’s a universe for another time and a different discussion, however.

Right now…

Seattle has a raft of young players who figure either to get their first extended major league action — or are knocking on the door and should be around the club if the expected large “taxi squads” are needed to make up appropriate numbers.

The Mariners should be starting four everyday rookies when the season kicks off: first baseman Evan White, second baseman Shed Long, and outfielders Kyle Lewis and Jake Fraley.

Top prospect Jarred Kelenic may be close enough to earn a few at-bats — when in a normal year, he might have opened the year at Double-A Arkansas.

There should be kids on the pitching staff, too, beginning with starters Justus Sheffield and Justin Dunn.

Top prospect Logan Gilbert is almost certain to get some meaningful innings — plus any number of rookies could show up in the bullpen (like my favorite, Sam Delaplane).

Even this shortened season offers a crucial springboard for the young and potentially exciting Mariners.

ITEM: Gonzaga isn’t the only neighborhood basketball program to boast a new international addition.

Congrats to Washington State’s Kyle Smith for snagging an elite European talent, 6-8 Andrej Jakimovski from North Macedonia.

Jakimovski was one of most sought-after players from that part of the world.

He starred at the 2019 FIBA U-18 European Championship B in Oradea, Romania — averaging 18.4 points per game to go with 9.4 rebounds.

Smith noted in a university release that Jakimovski had been weighing a professional career instead of playing college hoops — so it was a coup for Smith to land him, rounding out a terrific 2020 recruiting class.

Wazzu also may return CJ Elleby, their best player a year ago, if he decides not to turn pro (which now isn’t too likely).

Smith was effusive about Jakimovski.

“He is a highly skillful playmaker that can play four positions on the offensive end of the floor,” the coach said.

Jakimovski chose WSU over a host of top-level schools, proving that Smith may be as good as the reputation he brought from San Francisco.

Can I just be the next in a long line of folks to suggest a Wazzu-Gonzaga matchup that might just become a rivalry?

Just do it, gentlemen.


Steve Cameron’s “Cheap Seats” columns appear in The Press on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. “Moments, Memories and Madness,” his reminiscences from several decades as a sports journalist, runs each Sunday.

Steve also writes Zags Tracker, a commentary on Gonzaga basketball, once per month during the offseason.