The summer appeared to be going exactly to plan.
Jeremy Pargo was back in Spokane working out with the team, Josh Heytvelt was on the road to a full recovery after getting his ankle re-set, and the freshmen were present and accounted for. The Zags were on track to being a top-10 team and a serious threat to a national title.
Things changed quite a bit two nights ago when news broke that star forward Austin Daye had suffered a serious injury. Torn ACL. When these two words combine it can make even the strongest of sports fans shudder. Countless careers have been ended because of ACL tears; many careers never even had a chance to get started. For Austin Daye, a sure-fire lottery pick, the tear is only partial; in fact it was originally diagnosed as a hamstring injury. Daye's career is by no means over and if everything goes to plan he should be back this season. However, it is going to put a major hitch in Gonzaga's early season schedule, and Zag fans know that non-conference play is where Gonzaga makes their mark. Here are some things which will certainly be affected due to Austin's untimely injury.
Would it be Gonzaga basketball without players playing out of position?
Undersized, oversized, guys that can't shoot playing shooting guard, guys that can't rebound playing down low, Gonzaga fans have seen it all. Austin Daye is not a true power forward. He optimizes his talents at the small forward but many people believe that he was going to have to play power forward. With the injury to Austin, and the questions regarding Robert Sacre and his development, more Zags may have to be forced into uncomfortable roles, i.e. Micah Downs. He's a born small forward and could pose as a shooting guard but he will be thrust into the power forward spot for sure if Sacre does not solidify himself at center. If Sacre does, Heytvelt can be at power forward and then Micah can play small forward mostly (I don't even want to talk about three guards right now). Even if Josh starts at PF, Micah will still see plenty of time at power forward. Micah can do it, he's got as much talent as any other Zag but more importantly, he has the mindset that he just wants to help his team win.
Someone has to make up for the points Austin was going to put up.
I don't care what you say (kidding), Austin was going to be one of, if not the leading scorer on this team in 2008-09. If you argue that point, then you don't watch basketball. Not one person is going to make up all those points (I'm assuming around 17 PPG). The main man under the microscope will be Micah Downs, who seems to have drawn the short stick after this injury. The finger and the wrath of the Internet fan will all be on Micah to perform at his "Burger Boy" level. Personally, I don't see that happening. Micah contributes in many other ways but he will not score 20 a game. I do know that Josh can score more, Rob can score some, Matt can score more consistently, and ditto for Pargo. My guy to really step up and score in loads is Austin's sophomore counterpart, Steven Gray. No one showed me more at the end of the year and he has the potential to pour in some big numbers night in, night out.
How many games the Zags will lose due to the loss of Daye.
I'm not a doctor and I don't pretend to be one but I'm also not a moron. ACL's are not something to toy with and they are not something which is just physical. When you are a player like Austin Daye, you rely on your confidence as much as your skill to make you the player you are. That being said, I do not believe that Daye will be back until after the Non-Conference schedule. He may play, but you can't expect the kid to be 100% mentally ready during his first game back. So, how many games do we lose without Austin? Surprisingly I don't think it will be so bad. I can't imagine us losing to Arizona, Indiana, Utah or WSU. Idaho, Montana, and Portland State should be wins. I don't know about the Old Spice Classic but I think we will win one game at least. That leaves UConn, Memphis and Tennessee. UConn is December 20th. I don't expect Austin to be back. That is too soon for an ACL. January 7th is Tennessee. In my Gonzaga-biased brain, I think Austin could be healed by January 1st but I don't think he'll be game ready but I still think the Zags can win this game. Memphis will be interesting. It's February 7th and I think Austin could be ready by then. If it was in Memphis I would give them the edge but I like our chances being that it is in Spokane. Worst case scenario we lose two out of these three, best case...win all three!
It's hard to find any room for positive thought with an injury like this. However, we are lucky and Austin is lucky that it is only a partial tear. This version of the Bulldogs is as solid as they come if all the parts work correctly. When you lay the schedule out, the true test will be the Old Spice Tournament in Orlando. Will we win it? Probably not. But that tournament has got to be a confidence booster for the Zags to let them know that they can do this without Austin and that this is a very special year. If they come out and lay an egg in the Old Spice, you can bet that will carry over into some bad losses.
Gonzaga fans know Austin plays with an edge and a "killer instinct". Many believed that he would be the one to hit the big shot against the best teams in 2008-09. The only thing I worry about is who has that killer instinct to step up and hit that big shot?