Gonzaga basketball becoming a foreign affair
Gonzaga has six foreigners on its men's basketball roster, including German star Elias Harris.
Seattle Times staff reporter
SPOKANE — We take you now to a meeting room at McCarthey Athletic Center, where Gonzaga rules in basketball, and where the culture is increasingly international.
"I don't know if you can consider Canada international," says German forward Elias Harris, trading jibes with Kelly Olynyk of Kamloops, B.C. "It's so close to the United States. It's not that different, is it?"
Olynyk: "It's different. It's way different, man."
Harris: "You speak the same language, you eat pretty much the same stuff."
Olynyk: "Yeahhh, it's still different. The food's the same there, too, man."
Harris: "Where, in Germany? No, it's not."
Olynyk: "It's more like sausages, that's it."
Harris: "It's a lot more heavy over here. Everybody knows it. Everything's so greasy over here."
Meanwhile, Zags coach Mark Few is off somewhere, hoping for the same level of spirited competitiveness from his basketball team. Last week, he was none too certain Gonzaga is deserving of the No. 12 rating it occupies in both polls.
"My wife reminds me I'm like that every year," he grumbled. "Maybe I'm the guy who cried wolf, and the wolf is actually outside right now."
Most of Few's angst revolves around the development of the Zags' guard positions around senior Steven Gray. The frontcourt appears to be in good, maybe superlative, hands, with Harris, Olynyk, center Robert Sacre and redshirt freshman Sam Dower.
Whatever develops this season for the Zags through their typical nonleague-schedule-on-steroids, it will be heavily forged by foreign players. There are six on the roster.
Few tends to scoff at that math, saying that the three Canadians are seen and heavily scouted in AAU tournaments in the U.S. But there's no doubting the adjustment that has to take place for Europeans like freshmen Mathis Keita (France) and Mathis Monninghoff (Germany), who join Harris to make it three Zags from across the Pond.
With English-as-second-language curricula, Keita and Monninghoff have spent a fall semester in class about six hours a day.
"It's really tough," said Monninghoff.
Then comes the schooling on the basketball floor, which, says Few, can "be very overwhelming."
Few clicked off a few basketball terms that are second nature to Americans, not so much to foreigners: The "elbow," the "block," and on screens, the "hedge" and the "show."
Says Manny Arop, the sophomore swingman from Edmonton, "I can't imagine how difficult it is for them. Just coming to college is a huge culture shock, and coming to a different country with a totally different language is probably very difficult."
The Zags' inclination to go international has something to do with difficulty in cracking the rich Seattle-area talent pool in a big way (though they're ecstatic about landing Kentridge's Gary Bell for 2011). As an alternative, they've used the recruiting contacts of assistant coaches Tommy Lloyd — who played in Germany and was the force behind former GU standout Ronny Turiaf — and Ray Giacoletti.
It was Lloyd whose contacts led to the signing of Harris, an All-American-caliber forward. Harris, however, had a recent shoulder separation from a practice fall and is sitting out the Zags' exhibition games.
Olynyk, like Harris, played in the FIBA World Championships late in the summer, and Olynyk was a surprise for the Canadian team, scoring 33 points his final three games. He's a hard-nosed 7-footer with passing skills.
Dower, a Minnesota product with a knack for scoring, will come off the bench, while Sacre returns in the middle.
Arop, a rebounding and defensive force, was coming on late in the season last winter when he broke his foot in the WCC tournament semifinal. Gray, the Bainbridge product, is the most veteran of the Zags, but Few worries that his contributions — one of which is shooting — will be dulled by iffy point-guard play.
The obvious candidate there is junior Demetri Goodson, but he hasn't shown quantum improvement from last season.
"He's been the same," said Few. "He needs to be better."
Help could also come from 6-4 junior-college product Marquise Carter, a combo guard who can shoot.
The nonleague schedule is again deadly — five top-25 teams, plus the possibility of meeting No. 1 Duke in a November tournament.
Said Olynyk, "We all see we have something special if we come together."
Think of it as united nations.
Bud Withers: 206-464-8281 or email@example.com
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