Gonzaga forward Kyle Wiltjer has decided to return for his senior season, sources told CBSSports.com.
Wiltjer averaged 16.8 points and 6.2 rebounds on his way to becoming a consensus second-team All-American last season, as well as a first-team All-WCC member. He will be one of the preseason favorites for national player of the year next season, given that all five members of the first All-American team and four of the six members of the second All-American team will be playing professionally next season.
Declaring for the draft and turning professional had been under consideration for Wiltjer partially due to his age, as he’ll turn 23 before the start of next season. He was the No. 80 player on the CBSSports.com 2015 NBA Draft big board, so his being picked up by an NBA team would have been far from a sure thing.
However, his father played overseas in Europe for 12 seasons, meaning the family would have had a pretty good lay of the land regarding his options had he not been picked. Those concerns will be set aside for a year now though, as Wiltjer will attempt to lead the Zags back on another NCAA Tournament run.
Gonzaga is the No. 9 team in CBSSports.com’s Ridiculously Early Preseason Top-25 (and one), and will return Przemek Karnowski and Domantas Sabonis in the frontcourt next to Wiltjer. The Zags have also been active in the transfer market, looking for players to replace Kevin Pangos, Gary Bell Jr. and Byron Wesley from this season’s Elite Eight team.
They do have internal options to replace the guards in Silas Melson and Josh Perkins, but they also have four open scholarships with which to attract high-level talent on the perimeter. One player they’re still in the running for is Federico Mussini, an Italian point guard that would fit right into the Gonzaga mold of polished, scoring point guards. I was very impressed with Mussini at Nike Hoop Summit earlier in April, and wrote about how he would be a perfect fit for the college game with his ability to shoot as well as create plays for others. It seems like it’s down to the Zags and St. John’s for his services.
If the Bulldogs are able to pick up a Mussini or an elite graduate transfer, it would become very possible to see them become a trendy Final Four pick again this season after last year’s great run. Regardless though, Wiltjer’s return will certainly help to make the Zags nationally relevant yet again under Mark Few.