Gonzaga basketball coach Mark Few is on a family vacation in Hawaii, but I’m guessing he took the call over the weekend that informed him that USC’s Byron Wesley is headed to the Zags to complete his college eligibility as a graduate transfer. The sunsets must be looking a little prettier for Few, because Wesley could represent sort of the missing piece for the Zags.
He left the Trojans after an 11-21 season, the first under Andy Enfield. Funny stuff, this grad transfer rule that has changed the face of college basketball. Wesley goes from a team that finished 11-21 overall and last in the Pac-12 to one that is probably going to begin the 2014-15 season in the top 10.
The book on Wesley: A 6-5 wing player, he averaged 17.8 points (sixth in the conference) to lead USC and 6.4 rebounds a game. He shot .467 overall, a modest .338 on threes and .713 on free throws. He had a positive assist-turnover ratio.
Going back a year, he made 17 of 35 threes in Pac-12 play, and thereby finished one make out of leading the league in conference games (failing to qualify with the minimum makes).
He started all 32 games as a freshman for Kevin O’Neill, and came to USC ranked the No. 1 player in the state of California by Cali High Sports.
Some thoughts and possible caveats:
* The “3” spot has been a traditional source of concern for the Zags, who seemingly have been able regularly to find big men and guards, but struggle to attract the athletic, difference-making slasher. Wesley may be that guy.
* Gonzaga will be monstrously hard to guard this year, perhaps about as hard as anybody in the country. Center Przemek Karnowski improved vastly last season and should still be better around the basket. Kentucky transfer Kyle Wiltjer is a proven three-point shooter, at 6-10. The (rising) senior guards, Kevin Pangos and Gary Bell, are both 40-percent-plus three-point shooters. Now Wesley could be the finisher at the rim that the Zags have lacked.
* Inevitably, expectations are going to climb for Gonzaga, which has had that odd duality in recent years — capable of winning a tough first NCAA game — only Syracuse and Kansas have matched GU’s stretch of six straight years winning games in the tournament — but failing to get to the Sweet 16 since 2009. Wesley’s addition and the recruitment of standout Lithuanian Domas Sabonis means the bar is going to be set high for the Zags.
* Now the disclaimers: Wesley’s addition shouldn’t be taken as an automatic pass to greatness in March. Remember, the Zags added Gerard Coleman, the transfer from Providence who had averaged double figures in the Big East, but he’s gone now, largely because he couldn’t pick up the system (having said that, he didn’t have a jump shot, either, unlike Wesley).
* Wesley had a brief suspension late in the season. Is that a red flag? Does the arrival of a ready-made talent do anything to unsettle Gonzaga’s team chemistry, which is usually solid? The guess here is the Zags vetted those issues and more when Wesley visited. Now they have a player who chose them over Oklahoma State and Pitt — and an immediate future that looks pregnant with possibilities.