Gonzaga's Domantas Sabonis was picked 11th overall by the Orlando Magic in the 2016 NBA Draft Thursday night, then shipped to the Oklahoma City Thunder. Later in the night, after the draft, fellow Gonzaga forward Kyle Wiltjer agreed to a deal with the Houston Rockets. So in one night two Gonzaga forwards realized their NBA dreams.
And to think, there was a time that the Gonzaga Bulldogs were known for little more than John Stockton.
Then, as the program developed from unknown to Cinderella and into perennial powerhouse it did so in large part due to a string of phenomenal guards. Following Stockton into the NBA were Richie Frahm, Dan Dickau, Blake Stepp, Jeremy Pargo and most recently David Stockton, son of the original. Others like Matt Santangelo, Derek Raivio, Matt Bouldin and most recently Kevin Pangos were, despite failing to reach the NBA, great college players who were honored as all-Americans.
The Zags have a history of great guard play, and that isn't likely to let up any time soon. But lately the Zags have become even better at producing elite and NBA level big men.
On Thursday Sabonis (17.6 ppg, 11.8 rpg) and Wiltjer (20.4 ppg, 6.3 rpg) became the fourth and fifth Gonzaga bigs to make it to the NBA in this decade. They follow the 15th pick from the 2013 draft, Kelly Olynyk (Dallas Mavericks, traded to the Boston Celtics), and 60th pick from the 2012 draft, Robert Sacre (Los Angeles Lakers), as well as Elias Harris who was undrafted in 2013 but had a short stint with the Lakers.
In the previous decade Gonzaga sent just two frontcourt players, Ronny Turiaf and Austin Daye, to the NBA. Over the past four seasons the Zags have more than doubled that number.
Guys like Turiaf, whose career spanned 11 NBA seasons and included an NBA title with the Miami Heat in 2012, Daye and Sacre showed that this small school in Spokane was more than capable of producing solid NBA bigs. But it wasn't until Kelly Olynyk's breakout 2013 season that everyone took notice.
After two seasons of limited minutes, the skinny, spot up shooting Olynyk spent the 2011-12 season on the sidelines and in the weight room. His improvement was dramatic. He went from playing less than 13 minutes per game to a consensus first team all-American who led Gonzaga to the top spot in the AP Poll for the first time in program history.
The following offseason Wiltjer, a McDonald's all-American, transferred in from Kentucky. He promptly went from sixth-man to focal point and helped Gonzaga get back to the Elite Eight for the first time since the 20th century.
Now those two, along with Sabonis, are in the NBA. Gonzaga's reputation as a factory for NBA bigs has never been greater. And don't expect that to change anytime soon.
That's because Przemek Karnowski decided to forgo the NBA Draft and return for a redshirt senior season, in which he'll play alongside incoming freshman forward Zach Collins — the first McDonald's all-American to commit to Gonzaga out of high school. After a night in the spotlight, the future is bright for Mark Few's program.
So, who do you think will be the next Zag to make it to the Association? Let us known in the comments below.