Drew Timme could have left for the NBA after leading Gonzaga into last season’s national title game. He likely would have been drafted and gone on to have a solid career.
But Timme wanted more. Certainly, a chance to finish off a championship run, but also to work one more season with coach Mark Few.
There was an added benefit, too: Timme was the lone unanimous selection by a 63-person media panel on The Associated Press preseason All-America team. He was joined by Illinois big man Kofi Cockburn, UCLA guard Johnny Juzang, Villanova point guard Collin Gillespie and Indiana forward Trayce Jackson-Davis.
“I love it here. It’s a great place. It’s where I want to be,” Timme said. “When I do something, I feel like I have to be the best version of myself and I felt like there are some things I needed to work on in order to accomplish that. Coach pushes me every day, we had some talks and I felt like it was the best move to me, the most logical move, especially with talking with coach and my family.”
Timme transformed from a freshman backup to one of the nation’s best big men last season, earning second-team All-America honors. He was a key cog in Gonzaga’s return to the NCAA title game, averaging 19 points and 7.0 rebounds while creating matchup problems for nearly every team the Zags faced.
The 6-foot-10 forward can shoot from the perimeter, post up smaller players, is an adept passer and has excellent footwork, attributes that had him projected to go late in the first round or early in the second of the NBA draft.
Timme’s return was a key to Gonzaga being voted No. 1 in the preseason AP Top 25 despite losing several key players.
“I think what will be new, unique, is how fast we’ll be able to learn and put together such a new group,” Timme said. “I don’t think there’s been a group that’s come through GU that’s been so young and lost so much.”
Cockburn faced a similar decision before opting to return to the Illini after weighing the NBA for a second straight year. The 7-foot center averaged 17.7 points and 9.5 rebounds per game as a sophomore last season to earn a second-team spot on the AP All-America team.
He was projected to be taken in the late first round or early second round of the NBA draft, but returned to cement his legacy at Illinois.
“I feel like if I could weigh the value of leaving after my freshman year and playing in the NBA,” Cockburn said. “Now, I feel like this is definitely more valuable, just having a legacy and having a home and somewhere you’re going to be remembered forever.”
Juzang’s stock rose after UCLA’s improbable run to the Final Four last season.
The 6-foot-6 guard was one of the breakout stars in March Madness, shooting 51% while averaging 22.8 points. His 137 points were the second-highest NCAA tournament total in UCLA history.
“I’m just trying to get better across the board,” he said. “Keep growing as a leader and really all aspects of the game.”
Gillispie was honored on senior night at Villanova and seemed to be on his way to a professional career before suffering a season-ending knee injury in the Big East Tournament. He was cleared for workouts in August and is raring to go after missing out on the NCAA Tournament.
“He’s almost like a freshman, itching to come back,” Villanova coach Jay Wright said.
Jackson-Davis has been Indiana’s best player the past two seasons, leading the Hoosiers in scoring, rebounding and blocked shots. After considering a jump to the NBA, the 6-9 junior opted to stay to round out his game and, hopefully, lead the Hoosiers to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2016.
“My freshman year I didn’t have a say in anything,” Jackson-Davis said. “I just kind of just held my tongue. I felt like last year I did it better, not to the best of my abilities, but I spoke up a lot more in the locker room. This year I think I’m taking the full pledge to try to lead guys on our team, especially the younger guys.”