“Next Man Up” is a motto that has echoed in Gonzaga’s men’s basketball programs for decades. With the increase in talent the program has seen over the past decade, players have been tasked with replacing those who came before them, continuing the progression of GU hoops talent for future Bulldogs, and instilling a mentality winning. in the next generation of Zags.
Junior striker Julian Strawther is no exception to this rule.
The 6-foot-7 Las Vegas forward has seen an increased role in his second year with the Zags. Last year with GU, Stawther tallied just 189 minutes in 25 games, averaging 7.56 minutes per game. With the likes of current NBA forward Corey Kispert ahead of him on the depth chart at the time, it was hard for Strawther to find time in the rotation.
But in true Strawther fashion, he patiently bided his time and learned from those before him, which Strawther says benefited him in the long run. Alongside Kispert were players like Joel Ayayi and good friend Jalen Suggs to help Strawther on his journey as he still keeps in touch with these players from time to time, speaking with Suggs almost daily.
“See success [Kispert] trusting the process and the system last year, a few things he taught me throughout the year, always keeping me under his wing, those are all things I carried this season” , said Strawther. “Having the exact same mindset he had of cherishing every moment, especially for elimination basketball, [he instilled in me] that every moment and every game counts… I feel like it’s been a success for me so far, so I have to keep carrying this until March.
Strawther found immediate success after a year of watching Kispert on the bench. Strawther has seen improvement across all statistical categories this season, averaging 26.7 minutes per game, almost 20 minutes more than last season.
The Vegas star also increased his three-point percentage by about 8%, taking his 32.1% from three in his first year to 39.6% from behind the arc this season. Strawther’s free throw percentage is also up 3%, he’s averaging four more rebounds than last year and has seen his points quadruple to 12 from 3.4 points per game last season. .3 points per game this season.
Not only is Strawther himself seeing this progression, but his teammates are starting to notice it as well. Junior striker Anton Watson noticed that Strawther had become more confident as a player, affecting his results on the pitch in impactful ways.
“Last year he didn’t have a lot of playing time, but he worked hard this summer and kind of took Corey’s place,” Watson said. “He’s a three-point specialist, so it’s good to have him in our squad at the moment.”
Some notable Strawther performances this season have come in very high-stakes games for the Zags. Strawther’s only high-scoring game, 20 points, came against Duke and BYU this season. In the loss to the Blue Devils on Nov. 26, Strawther shot 50% from the field, hitting nearly 43% of his three-point shots. A few months later, when GU played BYU in The Kennel, Strawther shot 70% from the field and 60% from behind the arc, an improvement over the game against Duke. Strawther also dropped another 19 points against BYU in Provo on Feb. 5.
One of Strawther’s most memorable matches was GU’s most recent against Saint Mary’s. Playing in front of friends and family in his hometown of Las Vegas, Strawther dropped 16 points on 83% shooting from the field, not missing a three-point shot he took, helping the Zags land another West Coast Conference (WCC) tournament championship. With a total of 30 friends and family supporting Strawther, he said it was one of his favorite times during his time at GU so far.
“It was really, really cool,” Strawther said. “Especially just to see all my friends and family smiling in the crowd. [and] have a good game in the league, [those are] moments that you lived and dreamed of when you were a child. [For them to see us] Cutting the net in my hometown is something I will cherish forever.
The Zags will begin their run for their first national championship in school history Thursday in the first round of the NCAA Tournament against Georgia State. With the likes of Drew Timme, Chet Holmgren and Andrew Nembhard at the forefront of the Zag’s push for the natty, Strawther will be there with them, and Watson and his teammates are confident Strawther will be able to make a big contribution to a potential race in March Madness.
“I think he’s going to contribute a lot,” Watson said. “If he just plays his game [and] play hard, I think he’ll be fine.