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Killian Tillie returning to Gonzaga

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Gonzaga is getting back some frontcourt experience for next season as junior forward Killian Tillie is reportedly heading back to school.

According to Stadium’s Jeff Goodman, the 6-foot-10 Killie is returning for his senior season following an injury-riddled junior season that only saw him play 15 games. With Brandon Clarke and Rui Hachimura playing so well during the season, Tillie was relegated to coming off the bench as a role player in limited minutes during the season.

Tillie put up 6.2 points and 3.9 rebounds per game in only 16.6 minutes per game, a far cry from a breakout sophomore campaign that saw him average 12.9 points and 5.9 rebounds per game.

If Tillie is fully healthy, then he’s a potential all-conference player for the Zags as his offensive skill level is high and he’s a solid rebounder. But Tillie hasn’t looked the same while trying to play through the ankle and foot injuries that limited him last season. With Tillie also spraining an ankle during NBA draft workouts and dropping out of the combine, this could be the right decision since he hasn’t been healthy in a year.

Mahershala Ali’s hoops career at Saint Mary’s back in spotlight after second Oscar win

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Mahershala Ali captured his second Oscar on Sunday night as he’s quickly becoming one of the most respected actors in America. Winning Best Supporting Actor for his portrayal of Dr. Don Shirley in Green Book, Ali earned his second Academy Award, after previously winning Best Actor for his role in Moonlight two years ago.

But before Ali became a movie star, he was a Division I scholarship basketball player at Saint Mary’s. Playing four seasons and appearing in 97 games under his given name of Hershal Gilmore — mostly as a role player — Ali’s basketball past has started to make the rounds online over the last several days.

While some are clamoring for Ali to take part in a basketball-related role, the 45-year-old actor has stuck with dramatic roles not involving sports during his Hollywood ascension the last several years. Now that LeBron James and Space Jam II is being made, however, maybe The King needs Ali by his side as a worthy sidekick.

In the original Space Jam, Michael Jordan called on Bill Murray to help beat the Monstars. And Ali is a superior hooper who also now owns two Oscars. It’s unlikely, but it would be fun to see James and Ali share the court and the screen together.

Gonzaga guard Geno Crandall out 4-6 weeks

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Gonzaga will be without reserve guard Geno Crandall for the next four-to-six weeks with a fracture in his right hand.

According to a report from Jim Meehan of the Spokesman-Review, Crandall suffered the injury in his hand during Sunday’s practice. The 6-foot-3 Crandall is a graduate transfer from North Dakota who was supposed to help take some minutes from senior starter Josh Perkins.

Crandall has averaged 18.2 minutes per game so far this season, as he’s putting up 5.0 points, 2.3 assists and 1.3 steals per game. Although Crandall had a positive game against Texas A&M with 13 points in 23 minutes, he has struggled in other games to find his scoring touch. A double-figure scorer his first three seasons in college, Crandall is only shooting 30 percent from the field to start the season.

While this injury won’t significantly damage No. 1 Gonzaga, this will impact Perkins and the amount of minutes he could log. We could see the Zags experiment with some unique options at lead guard. Unfortunately for Gonzaga, they’re about to embark on a difficult four-game stretch that includes games against Washington, Creighton, No. 6 Tennessee and No. 11 North Carolina in the next three weeks.

As long as Gonzaga is able to ride their veteran starters for extended minutes, Crandall’s injury should be something they can withstand for a short period of time.

Gonzaga’s Rui Hachimura has strong showing for Japan in FIBA upset over Australia

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Gonzaga junior forward Rui Hachimura started to show signs of his vast potential during Japan’s recent appearance in the FIBA Basketball World Cup 2019 Asian Qualifiers.

The 6-foot-8 Hachimura dropped 24 points and seven rebounds in an impressive win for Japan over Australia as he showed a full scoring package and an improved perimeter jumper. After only shooting 19 percent from three-point range as a sophomore last season, Hachimura was 2-for-3 from distance (10-for-18 field goals) in the upset over Australia.

Beginning to display his talents in 20.7 minutes per game last season for the Bulldogs, Hachimura is expected to make a significant jump his junior season as he’ll be counted on to be more of a go-to player for Gonzaga. Hachimura finding his offense at multiple levels and going against NBA players like Matthew Dellavedova and Thon Maker is a positive sign in his development for next season.

Gonzaga is currently the No. 2 team in the NBCSports.com preseason poll as Hachimura’s development will be a big part of this team living up to the preseason hype. With a full lineup of experienced players returning, including point guard Josh Perkins, wings Zach Norvell and Corey Kispert, and a frontcourt of Hachimura and Killian Tillie, the Bulldogs have the talent to make major moves in college hoops next season.

Domantas Sabonis exits Gonzaga’s exhibition win after nasty fall

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Gonzaga earned a blowout win over Eastern Oregon on Saturday night in an exhibition game, but the team lost sophomore center Domantas Sabonis in the first half after he took a hard fall on his back.

According to a report from Jim Meehan of The Spokesman-Review, Sabonis landed on the small of his back early in the first half. The sophomore tried to return to action later, but showed signs of discomfort:

“He just came down on it (lower back) really hard,” coach Mark Few said. “At this point, I have to sit down and talk to the trainer and we’ll have to see how bad it is. It was giving him some problems when he went back out and tried to play.”

Gonzaga’s rotation is essentially nine deep, counting Sabonis, one of the team’s four bigs. When the 6-foot-11 sophomore headed to the bench following his brief return, he chatted with Few for a few seconds, then swung a towel in frustration. He sat on the bench with a heat pad on his back/hip, rising slowly from his seat during timeouts. He’s expected to see a doctor Sunday.

While it doesn’t seem like Sabonis hurt anything that badly if he tried to play more in a meaningless game, it does give Gonzaga some concerns about how he’ll look in the season opener against Pitt. That’s because the game is being played in Okinawa, Japan as part of the Armed Forces Classic. Gonzaga leaves for Japan on Tuesday, which means the 6-foot-11 Sabonis will have to endure about 18 hours on a plane with a bad back. It’s hard enough for someone that size to be on a flight that long, let alone with an ailing back. Will Sabonis be healthy enough to be a major factor in that game?

Besides Sabonis going down with injury, Gonzaga has to be concerned about its lack of perimeter shooting in the win. The Zags were only 5-for-31 from 3-point range and didn’t shoot particularly well overall. Senior Kyle Wiltjer had a huge outing with 33 points and 14 rebounds, but Gonzaga is going to need more from their backcourt to be an elite team this season.

Saint Mary’s lands Rivals150 guard in Class of 2016

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Saint Mary’s landed an impact guard on Monday as Rivals150 guard Jordan Ford pledged to the Gaels. The 6-foot-0 native of Folsom, California was down to a final three of Oregon State, UC-Santa Barbara and Saint Mary’s before deciding on the WCC program.

Regarded as the No. 138 prospect in the Class of 2016, Ford can score or distribute and should be a really nice fit in head coach Randy Bennett’s system. During the spring and summer with the Oakland Soldiers, Ford played in 20 games and averaged 12.5 points, 3.1 rebounds and 2.4 assists per game. He also shot 43 percent from the field, 38 percent from 3-point range and 80 percent from the free-throw line in EYBL play.

Ford is Saint Mary’s first commitment in the Class of 2016 and represents a great start going forward for the group.