Roster churn plagues Gonzaga men's basketball
As a new school year begins, some of the Zags' hopes going forward rest on quieting the roster churn that has taken place in recent years.
Seattle Times staff reporter
Gone-zagaIncoming class of 2008-09
Demetri Goodson Transferred to Baylor to play football.
Andy Poling Transferred to Seattle Pacific.
Grant Gibbs Transferred to Creighton.
Incoming class of 2009-10
Bol Kong Headed to St. Francis Xavier University in Nova Scotia.
Manny Arop Transferred to Indiana State.
G.J. Vilarino: Transferred to Appalachian State.
Incoming class of 2010-11
Keegan Hyland Transferred to Vermont, then Fairfield.
Funny thing — Demetri Goodson was again wearing a No. 3 jersey Friday night, and his team was doing what Gonzaga did a lot of in his three seasons: playing like gangbusters against a nationally prominent nonconference opponent.
Except this was football, and Goodson was on the sideline for Baylor's upset in its opener against Texas Christian, another benchmark in a surprising change of course for an athlete who started 68 games at point guard for Gonzaga over the past two seasons. Goodson isn't yet on the two-deep at Baylor but is on some special teams.
"We were all in shock when he said it," recalled Tim Schumacher, Goodson's basketball coach at Klein Collins High School in Spring, Texas, of Goodson's decision. "He'd been there three years, contributed and done a lot in that program. For him to say, 'It's time for me to go,' it was real shocking to hear."
Goodson's is the most high-profile transfer, but it's hardly the only one in recent times from Gonzaga. As a new school year begins, some of the Zags' hopes going forward rest on quieting the roster churn that has taken place in recent years.
Goodson's departure wiped out the last of a three-man class that began at GU in 2008 and contributes to this statistic:
Of 13 scholarship players signed for the three classes that this fall are sophomores, juniors and seniors, seven have left the program for a variety of reasons. The ultimate reckoning, simply on the numbers alone, is that Gonzaga has too often misjudged what it might get from some of those signees.
Coach Mark Few maintained earlier this summer that the attrition is common to all programs nowadays, and that a get-it-fast mentality in sports explains much of it.
"I think it happens pretty much in every program," he told The Seattle Times. "It's certainly happened in ours. In all the years I've been here, I don't think there have been very many when we didn't have a player or two that wasn't playing as much as they wanted to.
"Sometimes, it's hard to convince everybody that by the time they're a junior or senior, they've got a real shot to be a contributor. I really don't think this generation does that. If it isn't working, they switch AAU teams. If it isn't working, they might switch high schools."
The Times assessed the attrition in the old Pac-10 for those three classes — entering in 2008, 2009 and 2010 — and found the average loss per program to be about four, discounting those who left early for the NBA. But among programs that, like Gonzaga's, haven't undergone a head-coaching change, it's three, or one per year.
As Few explains it, several of those who left were recruited to fill a niche or provide depth, and if they pressed a regular or won a starting job, so much the better. Indeed, each of the transferring players has headed to a less prominent program.
"There's competition everywhere," Few says. "Different people react to that (differently). Some guys are able to step up and adapt to the college game and be able to function."
Few said he was reluctant to discuss each player's situation.
"I don't want to throw these kids under the bus," he said. "Everything was left amicably."
But, transfers being transfers, there's an undercurrent among some players or their families that the Gonzaga they expected wasn't necessarily the one they found.
Goodson, whose minutes declined in the second half of last season, said, "I love Gonzaga. It's a great school. I loved playing ball there." But he added, "I just felt I'm a much better player than what people, I guess, saw me as."
Goodson's experience underscores a pattern at Gonzaga since the school burst onto the national scene with its Elite Eight breakthrough in 1999: In the backcourt, the Zags have struggled to parlay the athleticism needed to compete at a late-March level with the kind of instinctive, savvy play that won them national acclaim in the first place.
Back then, there was Matt Santangelo, Quentin Hall and Richie Frahm, and later, Dan Dickau and Blake Stepp, all heady players who knew every man's role on the floor and could sense a play a couple of passes away. But all were marginal NBA talents at best.
Much of the time since then, the Zags have sought to upgrade athleticism while preserving the cunning side. Success there has been limited; Pierre-Marie Altidor-Cespedes, who arrived in 2004, transferred to Marshall. Goodson packed up in the spring. A year ago, so did guard G.J. Vilarino, now at Appalachian State.
Jeremy Pargo (2006-09) improved Gonzaga's athleticism, but at a high turnover rate. Few conceded the philosophical tug-of-war in the search to be more athletic, saying, "We certainly have been susceptible to let's-get-skill, now-let's-get-athleticism," he said. "You kind of bounce back and forth."
Vilarino's father, Gerry, is critical of Few's communication skills with players, and adds, "You almost have to be in the mold he's looking for. G.J. was a different breed of guard, with more of an athletic, scoring kind of mentality, not the typical kind of point guard Gonzaga had over the years that made them successful.
"(Few) has one style for everybody, and that doesn't work for all kids."
Goodson, asked if he had a good relationship with Few, said, "Nah, not really. He treated it like a business. He's an excellent coach. It's just the way he coaches wasn't for me, I don't think."
The other two players in Goodson's class were dogged by illness and injuries. After he committed to Gonzaga, forward Andy Poling of suburban Portland had a two-year bout with undiagnosed food intolerances, a malady that dropped his weight from 220 to 175.
Iowan Grant Gibbs battled injuries, including a torn labrum, leaving after two years for Creighton.
"It was a good experience," says Poling, now at Seattle Pacific. "I met a lot of good people. I just didn't feel it was probably the right place for me to play basketball. I had some guys ahead of me, and that had something to do with it."
Two years after it entered in 2009, half the class of six is gone, including a couple of touted Sudanese products by way of Canada, Bol Kong and Manny Arop. Kong proved a misfit for the structure of a high-level program. He didn't discriminate; he missed appointments with tutors, advisers and sportswriters alike.
"The first day he was on campus," says Brian Lee, his former coach at St. George's School in Vancouver, B.C., "he took a picture at center court (at Gonzaga). He was like, 'This is the happiest day of my life.' I still have that. He really meant it.
"Since he messed up at Gonzaga, he has not called me, and I know why. He's embarrassed. His habits are terrible. He needed to be held accountable as a young kid to many things and he wasn't."
Kong spent last season at a small school in Edmonton, and Lee says he then headed to St. Francis Xavier University in Nova Scotia.
Arop left for Indiana State. When he arrived, Few referred to him as a "junkyard dog" for his tenacious play, but like Goodson's, Arop's minutes declined last season as others emerged.
The transfer from the 2010-11 class, guard Keegan Hyland of South Portland, Maine, left in midyear, batting post-concussion syndrome after a practice injury.
"I wanted to go closer to home," says Hyland, who made a brief stop at Vermont but is now headed to Fairfield. "I knew they had kids coming in they were excited about next year, and I didn't think I was part of the grand scheme. I left on good terms."
One cyberspace theory that made the rounds is that Few handed off more recruiting authority to assistants and for a period, wasn't as involved himself. Few scoffed at that notion, saying, "I've got the greatest staff in the world."
Meanwhile, it can't be said the departures have yet had a piercing effect on the floor. The Zags return five of their top six scorers, will be ranked in or around the Top 25, and welcome a highly anticipated recruiting class that includes guards Gary Bell of Kentridge and Kevin Pangos of Newmarket, Ontario.
As always, the bar is set high. Increasingly, though, the goal in Spokane is stability along with success.
Bud Withers: 206-464-8281 or email@example.com
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