The 2015-2016 season was probably one of the best and worst ones for Gonzaga in a long time. It contained some of the most devastating losses (Saint Mary’s on Senior Night…and don’t even mention BYU, please) and the most emotionally exhilarating wins (Saint Mary’s for the WCC Championship!). It brought us to our lowest point when we were almost sure that we wouldn’t continue the glorified streak into the NCAA tournament, to when we didn’t think we’d ever have a strong leader on the court, and to when we lost our beloved Karnowski to a back injury for the season.
However, the most dedicated fans stayed around to watch, in hopes that somehow the team could resurrect that well-known (but seemingly long lost) Zag Spirit that the year before us had. Well, you may already know the end of the story, but the players and coaches rallied. They showed fans and critics what it really means to be a Zag, and came back with a fire stronger than before. Against all odds, the players made it not only to the NCAA tournament, but to the Sweet Sixteen, where they lost by a mere 3 points to a Final Four team.
Now that the season is over, I have decided to score each player based on their performance this season. I’m scoring based off of many different things: offensive and defensive ability, improvement throughout the season and, yes, they are all based off my observations and opinions. Another thing that should be clarified is that these scores are solely based off of the team, and not to be compared with any other collegiate players/teams. In other words, the grades all relative to the Zags. So, with that, I introduce the 2015-2016 Gonzaga Bulldogs.
Kyle Wiltjer – Senior Forward
Kyle Wiltjer played for the Kentucky Wildcats before transferring to Gonzaga for his junior and senior years. Wiltjer was a key player for Gonzaga, and was relied on for his NBA-style shots from behind the arc. He averaged 20.4 PPG and occasionally used his size to his advantage under the basket as well. Wiltjer’s offense was certainly polished, but his defense proved to be something of a liability during some games, which brings down his overall score slightly. Wiltjer also seemed to have a few weak moments throughout the season, when he broke character and didn’t appear to perform for a few of the heavy losses against fellow WCC teams, Saint Mary’s and BYU. However, he showed an immense amount of commitment and came back with a vengeance for the WCC and NCAA tournaments. The exit of Wiltjer is going to leave a noticeable void in Gonzaga’s offense (and community), however we are all watching the upcoming NBA draft with fingers crossed. As stated before, Wiltjer’s defense wasn’t his strongest suit, but considering the fact that he was among one of the biggest talents throughout the last few years, and that the team relied on him heavily for a successful offense, his score is an A-.
Domantas Sabonis – Sophomore Center/Forward
Lithuanian sophomore Domantas Sabonis was one of the biggest breakouts this season, and part of that was because of the injury that struck 7’1’’ center Przemek Karnowski. Karno’s absence forced Sabonis to shoulder the weight in the paint, which brought on an immense amount of growth in his defensive and offensive abilities. He had averages of 17.6 in points per game and 11.8 in rebounds. In one of the most important games against Utah in the NCAA Tournament, Sabonis went head to head with one of the best centers in the country, Jakob Poeltl. To say that he rose to the occasion is an understatement when you compare the two centers’ points and rebounds. Sabonis scored 19 points with 10 rebounds, while Poeltl left with 5 points and 4 rebounds, which are both significantly under his averages. No matter the opponent, Sabonis plays with a passionate fire and controlled rage that is hard to go up against. I would argue that there were several games when we walked away with a win solely because of Sabonis’ aggression, energy and devotion to winning. In other words, he was a key player this season, and helped make the difference. While that has caused him some foul trouble in the past, he has grown into a mindful, yet aggressive, center/forward, with exceptional footwork, that will certainly be missed at Gonzaga (good luck in the NBA, Domas!). And for that, I give him a solid A.
Eric McClellan – Senior Guard
Eric McClellan was initially a transfer from Tulsa and Vanderbilt. After running into some trouble that caused his suspension, he was accepted an offer to play two years of Gonzaga ball. McClellan was a huge asset defensively, and was arguably one of the best defenders on the team, and in the West Coast Conference where he received many accolades for his quick feet. He also proved to have great drives to the basket along with a 34% success rate from behind the arc and averaged 10.7 points per game. McClellan was a senior that provided a large sense of community to the team, and proved to bring some leadership during the beginning of the season when the Zags lacked it. Earlier in the season, the Zags were missing strong guards, but McClellan soon stepped up to the plate and finished his senior year out strong when it mattered. For his versatility and strong defense, I give him a B.
Kyle Dranginis – RS Senior Guard
Kyle Dranginis has played at Gonzaga since the beginning of his college basketball career. He was a standout athlete at Skyview High School in Boise, Idaho, where I’m from, so as you can guess I’m fairly attached to this senior guard, and I’m sad to see him go. Dranginis certainly blossomed during this season, and began to (finally) catch the eyes of basketball fans and analysts alike. Personally, Dranginis is one of my favorite players, and I know he’s going to be successful with whatever he decides to do next. While Dranginis was mostly a “behind-the-scenes” player, he always came in clutch with his much-needed 3’s in games that counted. He averaged 6.5 points, 4 rebounds, 3 assists, and 1 steal per game. He was a well-rounded player that seemed to throw himself into any situation. I admire his versatility and while he didn’t shine in any specific field, he was an essential asset to the team, and will be missed after the four years he spent at GU. For that I give him a B.
Josh Perkins – Medical RS Freshman
To me, Josh Perkins was one of the most impressive players this past season. If I could give an award for the Most Improved, this guy would take the cake. Kevin Pangos was an extremely hard act to follow after leading the Zags to the Elite Eight a year ago, but I believe that Perkins is living up to it, though that wasn’t the case to begin with. After suffering a brutal broken jaw mid-game, he was forced to sit out during the 2014-2015 season. He led the first few games with too many turnovers and a lack of shots made. Perkins was definitely a question mark coming into the season, but he gradually proved himself that he deserved to lead the Zags. Long story short, Perkins grew into a polish point guard and became one of the top 3-point shooters in the WCC. The work he put in with his coaches was evident as we entered the NCAA tournament. Compared to the 1st half of the season, his 3-point percentage rose from 31% to 56% and his field goal percentage rose by 10% as well. By the time we stormed onto the court to play Utah, he was giving the visage of a matured leader that was far different than the one we were introduced with. He seemed to prove himself at the end of the season, but because I’m grading based off of the entire season, his slow start brings his overall score down slightly. For that, he has earned a B+.
To say that Mark Few had one stressful season is an understatement. The team that we were left with after seniors Kevin Pangos, Gary Bell, and Byron Wesley left started the season roughly. Few was left with a team considered to be only comprised of Wiltjer, Karnowski and a budding Sabonis, with no depth in guards. It certainly got worse after we caught wind of Karnowski’s absence from the rest of the season. It looked bleak, and people were blaming Mark Few. Another factor was that he had allowed an HBO television crew to follow the Zags around all season for a five-part miniseries, which added even more pressure to the team and coach. Critics began to discuss that maybe it was time for Few to retire, and that he might have “lost his magic” after 17 previous, and successful, seasons coaching at Gonzaga. Few, however, didn’t listen to any of it, and the development that took place was remarkable. He turned the team into the one that we knew we had. His guards got their head’s on straight and Perkins took the leadership position successfully. Few had certainly not lost his magic, and the success of the team should go to him. He emphasizes not only how to play a good game of basketball, but prepares them for life after college and teaches them the values of how to live life in a true Jesuit fashion. For that, I give him an A.
Ava Joy Smith