|Expectations once again high for No. 10 Gonzaga|
|Written by Admin|
|Thursday, 06 November 2008 12:11|
Heytvelt's college career has been sidetracked by injuries and a drug bust, but there is no doubt the Bulldogs' 6-foot-11 senior forward has eye-popping skills.
He was averaging 15 points and 7.7 rebounds per game as a sophomore - and had outplayed Tyler Hansbrough in a game against North Carolina - when the arrest for possession of psychedelic mushrooms led to his suspension for the final nine games of the 2006-07 season.
Last season, a stress fracture in his right foot limited his mobility and effectiveness, and he was often on the bench during crunch time.
His foot is fully healed after surgery this summer and Heytvelt seeks to regain his status as one of Gonzaga's top players and move on to a pro career.
``This is my last go-around,'' Heytvelt said. ``I have to play as hard as I can.''
as a heavily recruited prep star in Clarkston, Wash.
``If I don't, I don't know what to do with the rest of my life,'' Heytvelt said before a recent practice.
Heytvelt held Hansbrough, the reigning player of the year, to nine points while scoring 19 points and grabbing eight rebounds in an 82-74 win over North Carolina in 2006.
Heytvelt looked unstoppable last weekend in scoring 19 points on 8-of-10 shooting in 14 minutes against Division II Wayne State in an exhibition win.
Gonzaga is thin on the front line elsewhere, with only Austin Daye, injured center Robert Sacre and little-used Will Foster to help Heytvelt. The guard-heavy team needs him at his best.
``One area where we struggled last year was in scoring in the paint,'' guard Micah Downs said. ``He's going to be a big help.''
Coach Mark Few said Heytvelt is playing better now than at any point last season.
``He's not where he was his sophomore year,'' Few added.
Few also said he didn't realize how much the foot injury was hampering Heytvelt last year, even as he averaged 10 points and 4.7 rebounds per game.
Gonzaga has nearly all the key players back from a team that went 25-8 last season and qualified for a 10th consecutive NCAA tournament.
``This is the best team I've been on my whole life,'' said Matt Bouldin, who led the Bulldogs in scoring last season at 12.6 points per game.
Coast Conference player of the year Jeremy Pargo (12 points, 6 assists, 3 rebounds per game), who flirted with declaring for the NBA draft before deciding to return for his senior season.
Daye (10.5 ppg) is now a sophomore. Other experienced players include Steven Gray (8.1 ppg), Downs (7.9 ppg), Sacre and Ira Brown.
Gone to graduation are scrappy David Pendergraft and Abdullahi Kuso, whose toughness must be replaced.
Coaches are excited about freshman point guard Demetri Goodson, who averaged 16 points and 7 assists at Klein Collins High in Houston.
``He's an entity that we just don't have or haven't had for quite a while, just quickness and speed,'' Few said.
Pargo, the point guard, emerged last year as a player who could be counted on to perform when the stakes were highest, having his best games against Oklahoma, Memphis, and Saint Mary's, and Davidson in a first-round NCAA tournament loss.
``The enthusiasm and charisma he brings to practice and traveling is contagious,'' Few said.
The Zags have another tough nonconference schedule that includes No. 2 Connecticut, No. 13 Memphis, No. 14 Tennessee, Indiana, Washington State, Arizona, Utah, and either Maryland or No. 6 Michigan State in the Old Spice Tournament. They also have to deal with a tougher WCC that also sent San Diego and Saint Mary's to the NCAA tournament last year.
the West since 1992, winning 75 percent of its games to edge UCLA and Stanford.
``There is not a year I have been here that people haven't expected a lot of things out of us,'' Heytvelt said.