With five newcomers on Gonzaga’s 17-man roster, it seemed inevitable that someone making their debut in a Bulldogs uniform would leave a memorable first impression during Saturday’s Kraziness in the Kennel showcase.
Fans might have expected that person to be 7-foot freshman Chet Holmgren, the former five-star prospect who’s projected to be an NBA lottery pick next year. If not Holmgren, then perhaps fellow five-star Hunter Sallis, the third-highest rated recruit of GU’s 2021 class, Nolan Hickman, or Iowa State transfer guard Rasir Bolton.
But not many would’ve placed bets on Kaden Perry, who despite being a four-star recruit himself was still the lowest-rated prospect in GU’s latest class and spent much of the last year rehabbing from herniated discs in his back.
Perry wasn’t the leading scorer during Saturday’s event, or the leading scorer for his own White team, but the freshman forward made an impact as soon as he came off the bench and didn’t appear to be hindered by an injury that kept him away from the court for approximately four months.
Including a deeper look at Perry’s debut in Gonzaga threads, here are three takeaways from Kraziness.
Praise for Perry
The freshman who’s been compared by Gonzaga coaches to former Bulldog Brandon Clarke, now a member of the Memphis Grizzlies, came up with a few Clarke-esque moments after checking into Saturday’s scrimmage, including a highlight block on junior forward Drew Timme.
Driving to the basket, Timme took a dribble, gathered the ball and went up with his right hand, trying to delicately loft a layup over Perry’s arms and off the glass. But glued tightly to his teammate, Perry rose when Timme did and met him parallel to the rim, stuffing the ball out of his hands before Timme could release it.
Sallis collected the rebound, drove down the court and with Perry trailing behind, the freshman guard delivered a bounce pass into the paint where an unmarked Perry was able to collect and finish with a two-handed dunk.
Timme, more astonished by Perry’s athleticism than he was embarrassed by the rejection, applauded his teammate in the post-scrimmage press conference.
“I drove down the lane and tried to throw one down off the top corner of the backboard and somehow he blocked it,” Timme said. “I feel like he jumped over the backboard for it. So, he’s a crazy athlete, he’s strong and he’s a heckuva player. Definitely underrated and he’s going to be huge for this team this year.”
Perry was an efficient 3 of 4, scoring six points with one rebound in just under six minutes on the floor. Next to walk-on Joe Few, who logged two minutes, Perry had the scrimmage’s top plus/minus of plus-5, though it should be noted he was one of only two players on the White squad to register fewer than six minutes.
Kraziness is supposed to offer fans an early glimpse of their new team, but the annual preview has served another unintended purpose over the years.
On Oct. 20, 2012, Gonzaga fans learned junior forward Kelly Olynyk was not with the team as a result of an unresolved issue overseen by the school’s student life department.
On Oct. 6, 2018, coach Mark Few revealed that Danish center Jacob Larsen had left the Bulldogs’ program.
On Oct. 5, 2019, news broke at Kraziness that Killian Tillie was two days removed from knee surgery, which kept the junior forward on the sideline for the team’s first four games.
The scrimmage has had a penchant for delivering major news and Saturday’s tipoff event came with not one, but two breaking stories that could have both short- and long-term ramifications on the Bulldogs.
Hours before the event started, a Gonzaga press release confirmed Few would miss Kraziness and serve a three-game suspension as a result of his citation for driving under the influence early last month. Few will miss exhibitions against Eastern Oregon and Lewis-Clark State and the season opener against Dixie State but will still be allowed to attend practice and other team activities.
At McCarthey Athletic Center, a printed news release alerted reporters that sophomore guard Dominick Harris would be out indefinitely with a right foot injury. Harris had already hinted at a lower-body injury when he posted an Instagram photo of the black boot covering his foot and leg less than a week earlier.
On Sunday, Harris confirmed via Instagram Live he’ll be having surgery on his right foot this Wednesday, although it’s still unclear if the injury is season-ending.
New leaders emerge
Corey Kispert and Joel Ayayi are busy trying to establish roles with the NBA’s Washington Wizards and Los Angeles Lakers, respectively, but the ex-Gonzaga standouts have still spared time to mentor their former teammates. In particular, Timme, now a veteran as one of the longest-tenured players on GU’s roster, and senior point guard Andrew Nembhard have sought out advice from Kispert and Ayayi as both current Zags attempt to fill leadership voids left by key members of last year’s national runner-up team.
“I feel old, age is really catching up to me,” Timme said. “It’s been a fun, new experience. I wouldn’t say new, but just learning how to be a better leader. I talked to Joel and Corey and asked them because they did such a good job last year, and I just want to continue what they started and the guys before them.
“Making sure the young guys are good and teaching them little things that are special to the Gonzaga culture. ... Just teaching them the new things and how we do things around here, so it’s been a fun process for sure. It’s a new challenge that I enjoy.”
The essence of the advice from Kispert and Ayayi?
“Andy (Nembhard) and I have been talking a lot with them and they just said be yourself and just work hard,” Timme said. “They said, the most important thing is as long as you lead by example and show them how to do it and how to do things right, the rest will take care of itself. So, Andrew and I have really been trying to do that to the best of our ability and just making sure the guys stay locked in and engaged all the time because college is a grind and it’s an adjustment and there’s a lot of extracurriculars that go on.”
As someone playing a position that naturally demands strong leadership skills, Nembhard indicated he’s comfortable in the role.
“I’ve been in a lot of leadership roles just as a point guard,” he said, “and playing for Florida I was a leader right from my freshman year, so definitely been in this position before and I’m excited to be in the position again just to help all these young guys and see what we can do from a winning standpoint this year.”