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WCC preseason awards: BYU’s Yoeli Childs edges out a bunch of Zags

The Zags are stacked, but talent is spread around out west.

NCAA Basketball: Brigham Young at Gonzaga
BYU’s Yoeli Childs and Gonzaga’s Rui Hachimura are the two most electrifying players in the WCC this season.
James Snook-USA TODAY Sports

Gonzaga comes into the season ranked No. 3 in the AP Poll and is the heavy favorite to run away with the West Coast Conference crown again, but the Zags aren’t the only team with talent in the WCC. Seven schools are represented in our preseason all-WCC first and second teams.

WCC Preseason Player of the Year

Yoeli Childs — Junior, Forward, BYU

2017-18 stats: 17.8 ppg, 8.6 rpg, 2.2 apg, 1.8 bpg and 54.1% shooting.

Childs was in the running for WCC Player of the Year last season even though the 6-foot-8, 225 pound power forward didn’t even lead his team in scoring. Now that leading scorer Elijah Bryant decided to leave school early, Childs is without a doubt the Cougars’ go-to option on the offensive end.

Last season Childs reached double figures in scoring in 33 of BYU’s 35 games and recorded 15 double-doubles. Capable of beating guys off the dribble and getting to the rim, backing them down before draining a fade away or simply pulling the trigger from deep, Childs is a strong power forward with all the tools.

After last season’s breakout performance Childs decided to test the NBA Draft waters, but ultimately decided to return to school for his junior season. The Cougars look to be an improved team this season with a ton of veteran leadership and a clear path to second place in the WCC — and that was even before Childs announced he would be coming back to BYU. With him, however, the Cougars should set their sights on the NCAA Tournament. Take a dominant player, sprinkle big numbers on his stat sheet and then watch as he and his team rise back into tournament consideration for the first time since 2015. That’s a sure-fire recipe for conference player of the year honors.

WCC Newcomer of the Year

Brandon Clarke, Junior, Forward, Gonzaga

An incredibly athletic power forward puts up big numbers and then transfers to Gonzaga. We’ve heard this one before. Johnathan Williams did that at Missouri, sat out three years ago and then led Gonzaga to the national championship game as a junior. Now that he’s gone, what’s Gonzaga to do?

Enter Brandon Clarke. A 2017 all-Mountain West First Team and all-Mountain West Defensive Team selection, Clarke averaged 17.3 points and 8.7 rebounds per game as a sophomore at San Jose State. And considering what Gonzaga has done with redshirt years (think of Kelly Olynyk, Kyle Wiltjer, Nigel Williams-Goss and Johnathan Williams), it’s not crazy to assume Clarke will be even better this year. Gonzaga’s far better than San Jose State, so his numbers will surely dip, but his impact and relevance will be higher than ever.

Dark Horse Team

Loyola Marymount Lions

2017-18 record: 11-20 (5-13), 8th WCC

No, the Lions probably won’t break into the top tier of the West Coast Conference. And they might not even make it into the fourth or fifth spots either. But where’s the fun in picking a perennial top-three team like Saint Mary’s or BYU, or an established challenger like San Francisco or San Diego?

LMU is truly a dark horse team in this league. The Lions finished eighth a season ago and were pegged as the seventh best team this season by the league’s coaches. Which is to say, a jump into the top half of the WCC standings would not only be a major step forward, but an unexpected one as well. But it probably shouldn’t be.

Mike Dunlap brings back 10 guys who have played meaningful minutes for this LMU program, which is a massive departure from his previous plug-and-play approach with JuCo transfers. There’s continuity in Westchester for once, and some talent too. The only major loss from last season is second leading scorer Steven Haney, who suffered a season-ending knee injury in early February. So this group of Lions has already played six games without last year’s senior leader.

Preseason All-WCC First Team

James Batemon — Senior, Guard, Loyola Marymount
2017-18 stats: 17.8 ppg, 3.6 rpg, 4.6 apg and 43 made threes on 39.4% shooting.

Far and away the best player for LMU all of last season, Batemon was a junior college transfer who had no problem adjusting to the Division I level. He routinely came up big for the Lions in big games. His 30 point performance on the road against Washington nearly led to an upset win. Two months later against BYU, he scored 28 and led the Lions to their biggest win of the season. Batemon really burst onto the scene during the WCC Tournament, though. While the Lions played just two games, and got bounced in the quarterfinals by Gonzaga, Batemon landed on the five man all-Tournament team. He scored 29 points in the opening round against Portland and then 27 a day later against Gonzaga.

Jordan Ford — Junior, Guard, Saint Mary’s
2017-18 stats: 11.1 ppg, 2.7 rpg, 1.6 apg and 51 made threes on 44.3% shooting.

Last season Ford was the fourth most valuable player for Randy Bennett’s Gaels, but the three players above him on that list aren’t around anymore. It’s a rebuilding year in Moraga and Ford is set to be the number one option. Over the Gaels final seven games last season, which included a three game run in the NIT, Ford averaged over 19 points per game. That hot streak seems to have rolled over into this season, too.

Rui Hachimura — Junior, Forward, Gonzaga
2017-18 stats: 11.6 ppg, 4.7 rpg and 60.6% shooting inside the arc.

Despite starting just two games last season Hachimura earned all-WCC first team honors. A 6-foot-8, 230 pound athletic freak, Hachimura was absolutely dominant in WCC play. When he would check into a game, typically around the first TV timeout, the Zags would run the offense through him with great success. His ability to destroy the rim is balanced by a delicate touch from mid-range. Unstoppable by mere mortals on the offensive end, opponents are left with little choice but to foul the Japanese big man. Hachimura drew more fouls per 40 minutes (5.8) than any player in WCC play. Foul at your own risk, though, as Hachimura hit at a 79.5% clip from the charity stripe last season. And he’s not just offense anymore. Hachimura struggled defensively early in his career, in large part because he was still learning the English language. A solid speaker now, Hachimura has developed into a long, lockdown defender.

Killian Tillie — Junior, Forward, Gonzaga
2017-18 stats: 12.9 ppg, 5.9 rpg, 58% shooting and 47.9% shooting from deep.

A 6-foot-10 stretch four seemingly built for the modern NBA, Tillie has developed from the eighth man as a freshman on Gonzaga’s title game team into perhaps the most important player on the roster. The case for team MVP could even extend to last season, when Tillie knocked down 13 of 14 threes and was named the Most Outstanding Player of the WCC Tournament. A hip injury sidelined the Frenchman for Gonzaga’s Sweet Sixteen clash with Florida State. Without his long and strong inside game, and ability to stretch the defense with shot making, the Seminoles were able to completely clamp down on Gonzaga inside the arc.

Tillie comes from a high-level volleyball family — drinking whenever this is mentioned by a commentator would be quite dangerous — and that background is clearly visible on the defensive end, as Tillie’s hands find their way to the basketball often and with ease.

Yoeli Childs — Junior, Forward, BYU

See above.

Preseason all-WCC Second Team

Josh Perkins — Senior, Guard, Gonzaga
2017-18 stats: 12.3 ppg, 3.1 rpg, 5.3 apg and 83 made threes on 39.3% shooting.

When Perkins arrived on campus in 2014 he was one of the most highly touted recruits in Gonzaga history. He’s now a fifth year senior and fourth year starter with three Sweet Sixteens and a national title game under his belt. A lightning rod guy in his first full season, Perkins has settled into a steady handed sharp-shooter who looks poised to lead Gonzaga over the program’s final hurdle.

KJ Feagin — Senior, Guard, Santa Clara
2017-18 stats: 17.5 ppg, 2.1 rpg, 4.0 apg and 58 made threes on 37.2% shooting.

Feagin was known as a strong defender in his first two seasons at Santa Clara but last season showcased his strength on the offensive side of the ball as well. Feagin’s scoring average jumped from 14.6 points per game to 17.5 as he was asked to take over for Jared Brownridge as the Broncos’ primary option on the offensive end. On a team with a ton of roster turnover, Feagin will once again be asked to carry the load for the Broncos.

Colbey Ross — Sophomore, Guard, Pepperdine
2017-18 stats: 14.0 ppg, 3.0 rpg, 5.6 apg and 41 made threes on 44.1% shooting.

Ross has been a starter since day one in Malibu and is the most talented player first year head coach Lorenzo Romar has inherited from Marty Wilson. During conference play Colbey Ross led the WCC in assist rate, dishing out helpers on nearly 40% of the Waves baskets while he was on the floor. He landed on the all-freshman team last season and was named an all-WCC honorable mention. Expect Ross to thrive in a veteran leadership position in just his second season.

Zach Norvell Jr. — Sophomore, Guard, Gonzaga
2017-18 stats: 12.7 ppg, 3.9 rpg, 2.3 apg and 77 made threes on 37% shooting.

Almost nobody in college basketball can get hot as quick as the man they call “Snacks.” During his redshirt freshman season, Norvell would endure a painful shooting performance in the first half seemingly every game. But Coach Few would leave the green light on and wait for Norvell to start knocking them down, which is exactly what happened in the first round of the NCAA Tournament against UNC-Greensboro. Norvell was one of seven from deep before hitting the game-winning three with 21 seconds to play.

Isaiah Pineiro — Senior, Forward, San Diego
2017-18 stats: 15.7 ppg, 6.2 rpg, 2.1 apg and 49.1% from the floor.

No player in the WCC was more involved on the offensive end last season than Portland State transfer Isaiah Pineiro. When he was on the floor, he took one third of the Toreros’ shots. Defensively, Pineiro was one of the league’s best rebounders as well. Unfortunately for Pineiro and his team, foul trouble often hampered his ability to stay in the game. Pineiro was one of the ten players named first team all-WCC last season.