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Jalen Suggs and Joel Ayayi prepared for the NBA Draft with The Guard Whisperer

Olin Simplis predicts long NBA careers for former Gonzaga players

Photo: Will Navarro

Olin Simplis, also known as The Guard Whisperer, has worked with a long list of NBA players, including the likes of Spencer Dinwiddie, Reggie Bullock, and Steven Adams. As the 2021 NBA Draft approaches Thursday night, two of the newest names on that list are Gonzaga’s Jalen Suggs and Joel Ayayi.

Based on his 20-plus years of experience, Simplis said he sees potential for Suggs and Ayayi to play in the NBA for a long time.

Both were part of a roster that was just one win away from a perfect season and an NCAA Championship trophy. Their 31-1 record became the Zags’ fifth straight 30-win season, which is an NCAA record.

Although he has never met Mark Few, Simplis said he has worked with enough Gonzaga alumni to recognize characteristics that the head coach clearly values.

“High IQ. They come from a system that he put in place and they’ve done very well,” the trainer said. “You gotta be a cerebral player to play for Mark Few.”

Suggs is one of the most well-rounded NBA prospects and is a projected top-five pick. He was the No. 6 prospect in ESPN’s Class of 2020 rankings, and at that time, he was the highest-ranked recruit to ever sign with the Bulldogs. That title now belongs to his good friend and former high school teammate Chet Holmgren.

As a starter in 30 games with Gonzaga, Suggs shot at 50.3% from the field while averaging 14.4 points, 5.3 rebounds and 4.5 assists. He earned the West Coast Conference Newcomer of the Year award.

On a couple different occasions, Few has said that Suggs has a “magical aura” about him. Simplis said it doesn’t take long to notice Suggs’ work ethic and strong competitive spirit.

“He is very calm, laid back and relaxed, but he is also a competitor,” Simplis said. “He likes to win everything. He doesn’t like to lose, even shooting contests.”

Ayayi wasn’t talked about as much as Suggs last season. He was often considered the fourth-best player on the Gonzaga roster behind Suggs, Corey Kispert and Drew Timme, but Simplis said the the 21-year-old French player can step into the spotlight whenever needed. He cited the Final Four game against UCLA, pointing out that Ayayi picked up 22 points on 9-of-12 shooting, along with six rebounds, two assists and two steals.

The 6’5 guard recorded the first triple-double in Gonzaga history on Jan. 9 against Portland (12 points, 13 rebounds and 14 assists in 28 minutes).

“You can just put him anywhere,” the trainer said. “I think if you plug him anywhere he will be effective. He can be a lead guard at times, play off the ball, he knows how to move. Just a high IQ, multifaceted player.”

Ayayi showed he can be a dangerous shooter. He averaged 12 points per game last season while making 57.5% of his shots. He also contributed 6.9 rebounds per game, about the same as Timme, a 6’10 forward.

But perhaps his most valuable asset is that he does all the little things that can make a huge impact on a game. He could easily translate his skills to become a strong role player in the NBA. Simplis said this was hard to teach, but that Ayayi has figured it out.

Suggs might get the most media attention right now, but on the practice court, Ayayi is the one with the louder personality.

“Joel is a shit talker, he has a good time,” Simplis said. “High energy. Suggs is a little more even-keeled, a little fierce competitor. Joel is just a ball of energy. Both of them are confident, but Joel is a little more outgoing as far as on the court talking. He is fun.”

Simplis has worked with other Gonzaga alumni including Ronny Turiaf, Domantas Sabonis and Rui Hachimura.

Hachimura, a forward for the Washington Wizards, is currently in Tokyo competing for Japan at the Olympics. Simplis worked with him before he left and expects to continue working with him in California once competition is done.

“He’s a monster. Great personality, outgoing. He’s going to make a shitload of money, very marketable and he wants to get better,” Simplis said. “He comes into town, hires a trainer, works out with us and with one of his Washington Wizards coaches. He is consistent in his offseason, he wants to get better and he’s a young kid. I like him a lot.”

Something that has stood out to him throughout the years is that Gonzaga alumni are a tight-knit group. Simplis said that whenever Sabonis goes to work out at the training facility, he often brings other Zags.

“It’s a family environment,” Simplis said. “Doesn’t matter what the age is, the generation, they all look out for each other and support one another.”

Simplis got to work with Suggs and Ayayi through the Wasserman agency. Evan Mobley, David Duke Jr., Trendon Watford, and Feron Hurt were also part of his pre-draft group.

He said his training style includes some tough love and requires players to not get comfortable. He wants to work with players who consistently want to get better and maybe even play with a chip on their shoulder.

Simplis didn’t want to generalize, but he said these traits are often found in guys who don’t necessarily come from elite college basketball conferences. He said that some guys who go to bigger schools sometimes feel like they’ve already made it, while a good percentage of players from less elite conferences have had to prove others wrong.

“I think these guys just have a different level of mindset when it comes to staying the course and just staying locked in because they’ve always had to work and have always been doubted,” Simplis said. “And they still carry that even if they are excelling, which is great.”

The trainer pointed out that some of the best guards in the NBA right now came from mid-major schools. Damian Lillard, Kawhi Leonard and Steph Curry are some of the players he used as examples.

Gonzaga is not a mid-major school but it is in a mid-major conference. Simplis said he is likes the West Coast Conference as a whole and would consider himself a Pepperdine Waves fan.

But no matter where the players he trains come from, Simplis said he always asks for the same thing.

“It’s a privilege to play this game and get paid for it. I try to make sure the guys work hard,” Simplis said. “A lot of times guys at this level they are already getting paid, some of them get complacent some of them get comfortable. I don’t like working with those types of players. I want guys who want to work hard. We grind.”