BY Howie Stalwick 07:44PM 04/20/2015

Wiltjer returns; Zags on short list for big scorer

Getting no looks from the NBA, Kyle Wiltjer, Gonzaga’s leading scorer, will return for his senior season. Meanwhile, top transfers, including Nigel Williams-Goss, are looking at Zags.

Kyle Wiltjer, seeing not much of a market for his skills in the NBA, will play his senior year at Gonzaga. / Drew Sellers, Sportspress Northwest

Gonzaga basketball star Kyle Wiltjer decided to spurn the pros to spend his senior year with the Zags, but the All-America forward may find it difficult to repeat as the Bulldogs’ leading scorer.

The Bulldogs confirmed Monday that Wiltjer is coming back. On Sunday, guard Damion Lee – the nation’s fifth-leading scorer as a junior this past season – announced that Gonzaga is one of five schools he is considering for his new home.

Lee, a 6-foot-6 shooting guard, averaged 21.4 points per game for Drexel of Pittsburgh. He plans to graduate in June, which would make him eligible him next season at any four-year school.

Various media have reported that two other Division I team scoring leaders include Gonzaga on their short list. Those players are Washington point guard Nigel Williams-Goss (15.6) and Missouri forward Johnathan Williams III (11.9). Both players have received releases to transfer, but they must sit out next season to satisfy NCAA transfer rules. They would be redshirt juniors in 2016-17.

Wiltjer’s return assures Gonzaga of another dominant front line. Starting center Przemek Karnowski announced Friday he would return for his senior year, and reserve forward Domantas Sabonis has continued to maintain he’s staying at Gonzaga since first making his decision public in a Feb. 12 interview with Some NBA draft projections had Sabonis going in the first round.

Sabonis figures to start as a sophomore after averaging 9.7 points and a team-high 7.1 rebounds in just 21.6 minutes as Gonzaga’s sixth man. The Bulldogs figure to bring another talented big man off the bench next season – 7-1 center Ryan Edwards, who redshirted as a freshman in 2014-15.

The 6-10 Wiltjer averaged 16.5 points and 6.2 rebounds in his first season at Gonzaga, but the Kentucky transfer drew little interest from NBA scouts. Wiltjer’s athleticism and defense are question marks in the NBA, but he has already graduated and was considering the pros. As with father Greg, Wiltjer may wind up enjoying a long, lucrative playing career in Europe.

Gonzaga loses three starters and junior forward Angel Nunez off a 35-3 team that set a school record for wins, won the regular-season and tournament championships in the West Coast Conference and advanced to the Elite Eight of the NCAA tournament for the second time in school history. The Bulldogs fell one win short of their first Final Four appearance when they lost to eventual champion Duke.

Nunez, unable to find much playing time at Louisville or Gonzaga, is transferring to South Florida. He’s on track to graduate in June after averaging 2.7 points, 1.9 rebounds and 6.3 minutes in his second season at Gonzaga.

All three of Gonzaga’s senior starters – point guard Kevin Pangos, shooting guard Gary Bell Jr. and small forward Byron Wesley – have drawn little interest from the NBA. All, however, are quite capable of playing professionally at some level.


  • RadioGuy

    Damion Lee is the one I’d pursue. This team is built to win NOW, but they also need guards NOW. No surprise about Wiltjer and Karnowski staying (they both need another year) but a sense of relief about Sabonis staying. But Wiltjer and Karnowski will be seniors and who knows if Sabonis will stay beyond one more year? Few can’t afford to wait a year for Williams-Goss, but Lee can play immediately and they’d be one point guard away from Final Four contender.

    • jafabian

      Few seems to get his players to stick around at least 3 years. And I bet Sabonis will look at the draft hard if he thinks about coming out early. He won’t want to happen what happened to his dad, getting drafted by a team with a lot of internal issues.

      • RadioGuy

        True, but Few’s never had a player that would be considered “NBA ready” as an underclassmen. Sabonis is different in that he’s got the great bloodlines, he IS a fairly athletic 6-10 with room to grow and seems to have a clue what to do with the ball when he gets it. He just turned 19 and is already being projected as a mid-first rounder next summer.

        Dad might want him to stay in college, but I can think of 4.5 million reasons over three years why he might decide to leave school early. There’s always a chance of being drafted by a team with internal problems. What assurance would he have of not ending up with one of those franchises after his senior season? The best he could do in that regard is pull a Danny Ferry and play in Europe for a year or more until he ends up on a team NOT like what Bob Whitsitt used to put together here or in Portland.

        Hey, I’d like to see Sabonis stay all four years in Spokane (and he may), but I’m trying to be realistic. Some of the guys pulling in paychecks right now in the NBA don’t have anywhere near his upside. This isn’t Austin Daye or Ronny Turiaf.

      • art thiel

        No player has control over who takes him, and they all have internal issues except for SA.

        Not sure Few gets them to stay longer, I think it’s more than they are marginal NBA talents whose best chance comes with four years of college.

        • jafabian

          I’d think a player can take an educated guess who will take them depending on where they’ll go. If they’re a top 10 pick and they don’t like any of the teams in that group they might opt to stay in school rather than leave though really, all athletes really care about is the money.

          I agree with your statement about marginal NBA talents. The Zags have had a lot of team success and the NBA is about individuality.

    • art thiel

      Few has put the Zags in good position to pick off top transfers, until they change the rules — which they will attempt to do for next year.