Perkins’ skills will be sorely missed

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Photo courtesy of USC Athletics Department Gonzaga is hoping former USC point guard Derryck Thornton, right, will become a Bulldog via the graduate transfer route.

It’s a mystery, really, how Gonzaga fans came to be so divided on the value of Josh Perkins.

Was it his unique hairstyles?

Seriously …

What exactly did the naysayers spot that suggested the Zags might be better without Perkins?

It’s awfully tough to criticize Josh’s contributions on the court.

We can all agree that numbers aren’t everything, but they DO give you a decent place to begin your judgment.

So let’s start there …

Only two players in NCAA history ever played more games for one school than Perkins’ 153 for the Zags — including a school-record 16 in NCAA tournament games.

Oh, and of course you probably know that Josh holds the Gonzaga career record for assists (709) and assists in a single season (231).

He’s second in career steals, and canned the fifth-most 3-pointers in Zags history.

So what was the problem?

Did his career plateau somewhere in the middle?

Hardly.

Josh Perkins did something extremely difficult, raising his field goal and free throw percentages in each of his four full seasons — remember, he played five games as a true freshman before suffering a broken jaw when accidentally kicked in the face by Georgia’s Kenny Grimes.

Perkins’ assist-to-turnover ratios were always good (his turnover-per-game number never rose above 2.1 in any season, winding up at 2.0 for those 153 games), and as a senior leading a team that was No. 1 in the nation during several stretches, Josh racked up 6.4 assists per game.

Given all that evidence, how will Perkins’ critics feel when Gonzaga opens a season without him for the first time in five years?

LOVE AT LAST

The suspicion here is that everyone in the Zag Nation may learn the lyrics to a Janet Jackson tune — a simple song called “Big Yellow Taxi” that originally was written and sung by Joni Mitchell nearly 50 years ago.

Here’s the chorus …

“Don’t it always seem to go, that you don’t know what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone?”

Indeed, Perkins will be gone when a group of very talented (but youthful) Zags gather this fall with the aim of keeping the program rolling — here in an era where Gonzaga has accomplished so much that anything short of the Final Four may seem a bit disappointing.

Key question …

Is there a point guard in the house?

The Zags’ outstanding 2019 recruiting class, a consensus top 10 gang according to various sites, features buckets of talent — but only one guard, 6-foot-1 Brock Ravet from smallish Kittitas High in rural Washington.

Ravet broke his state’s scoring record, and he’s looked intriguing in various spring all-star game (scoring from deep, getting to the hoop where he can score with either hand, etc.).

But even an all-world freshman might struggle as the trail boss for a team with Gonzaga’s goals — and Ravet looked far better offensively in the few peeks we’ve had of him than he might fare while trying to defend against the older, more mature (and perhaps more athletic) guards he’s going to see in Division I hoops.

THE GANG

Almost every day, we get an update on the thoughts and travels of a young man named Derryck Thornton.

Thornton is an intriguing athlete, but don’t get confused. He’s not the second coming of Steph Curry.

In fact, he averaged a whopping 7.7 points per game last season at Southern Cal.

But Thornton, who is registered in the portal as a grad transfer and thus immediately eligible to play for any school of his choice, is being pursued relentlessly by Gonzaga.

Boston College and St. John’s are rolling out the red carpet, as well.

Thornton visited Spokane last week, and the Gonzaga coaches have their fingers crossed that it was a happy stopover for one overriding reason …

Thornton is a point guard.

Gonzaga doesn’t have any experienced player at this critical position, which makes Thornton a hell of a target.

Thornton hopped to No. 1 on the Zags’ list when, among other things, Cal State Irvine grad transfer Max Hazzard chose to wrap up his career at Arizona.

Hazzard would have been ideal.

At the moment, the Zags seem to boast veteran or incoming impact players at almost every position except the point.

Mark Few and his staff have kept one scholarship open, hoping desperately to, well …

Not exactly “replace” Perkins, so much as find someone to succeed him at a critical spot on the floor.

The one grad transfer Gonzaga does have wrapped up, wing/guard Admon Gilder from Texas A&M, is an exciting addition who appears to be almost a carbon copy of departing wing scorer Zach Norvell Jr.

Besides Ravet and furious recruiting in pursuit of Thornton, one place the Zags can look is right at home — where the only players with any time whatsoever at the point are returning sophomores Greg Foster Jr. and Joel Ayayi.

RIGHT AT HOME

Foster Jr. and Ayayi have some things in common — besides their spots watching the Zags from the comfort of the bench.

Both are sons of pro basketball players, with the elder Foster spending 12 years knocking around the NBA as a fairly quick big man who could provide matchup problems in some situations.

Ayayi’s dad had a lengthy career in Europe, where the competition — now dotted with Americans — is tougher than most people suspect.

So the bottom line is that these two kids know the game, and each may have plenty of room to grow in the program.

Gonzaga has a well-deserved reputation for improving recruits once they’re on campus for a year or two.

Foster Jr. or Ayayi, both of whom were seriously recruited prior to their college careers and now have the advantage of knowing the Gonzaga system, could explode on the scene prior to the coming season.

Each is 6-5, which is a nice size for defensive assignments, and they’ve been immersed in basketball culture since toddlerhood.

Ayayi, who has played (very successfully) for France during international competitions, also has been sharpened at the country’s highly regarded INSEP academy — where current Zag Killian Tillie and former star Ronny Turiaf were also educated.

Given Gonzaga’s history of finding and developing some amazing internal solutions to apparent roster puzzles, it would be foolish to ignore Foster Jr. and/or Ayayi when the 2019-20 team begins to take shape.

One way or another, however, Few and his staff must find someone to grab the reins that Perkins held so steadily for his entire college career.

In the meantime, you get the feeling that some of the fans who seemed to find fault with everything Perkins did might have to rethink their view.

With apologies to Janet Jackson and Joni Mitchell, the Gonzaga staff absolutely DID know what it had with Josh Perkins.

If they could find a clone, they’d grab him in a heartbeat.

But for now …

The search stays on.

• • •

Steve Cameron’s “Cheap Seats” columns for The Press appear on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Steve also contributes the “Zags Tracker” package on Gonzaga basketball once monthly during the offseason.

Email: scameron@cdapress.com

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