February 9, 2007 is a date which every Gonzaga fan will remember. For myself and many friends, it was one of those "where were you when you heard" moments. Personally, I was laying on the couch watching Sportscenter when it flashed on the bottom line. Psychedelic Mushrooms was all you needed to see. That day, the hearts of every Gonzaga fan dropped as Josh Heytvelt and Theo Davis were arrested for possession of Mushrooms and Marijuana. The fallouts of this event were huge. Gonzaga went on lose 10 games that season, the most since the 97-98 season. Both players were reinstated in October but many wondered if they damage done was irreparable. Players felt let down, coaches were shocked, students were embarrassed, and fans knew the season was shot. Heytvelt returned to the floor last season on December 20th against Oklahoma after missing the first 11 games due to injury. He struggled to get his strength back the entire season and never appeared comfortable. As his senior season nears, Heytvelt has something to prove; he owes it to his teammates who forgave him for that night in February.
Strengths: There is no doubt that when Heytvelt is healthy and "with it", he is one of the most talented players Mark Few has ever coached. Standing at 6'11'' and nearly 240 pounds, he surprises many people with his outstanding athleticism. He is an extraordinary leaper and is a very rare combination of length, size, and athletic ability. Many Gonzaga fans talk about his sophomore season's effort against the hallowed Tyler Hansbrough and North Carolina. Josh dominated Hansbrough with his shot blocking and post defense and had his most outstanding game as a Zag. As a basketball player, there are not many things that Josh does not excel at. Many players of Josh's size and stature are only players that can play within a few feet from the basket. This is not so with Josh as he is an excellent shooter for his size. Sometimes it gets him into trouble with his shot selection from three-point range but no one can question his ability. It adds another dimension to the offense because many WCC forwards and centers are slow and unable to guard Josh from the outside-in.
Room for Improvement: It feels like every player we breakdown has to have their weaknesses prefaced with injuries. Josh is no different. As I mentioned early, Josh missed the first 11 games of last season due to a stress fracture which still ails him today. He had another surgery this off-season to insert more pins because the initial surgery did not heal properly. He is expected to be ready for camp but that is something Gonzaga fans have heard once or twice before. When healthy, Josh is so skilled on the basketball court. For him to be completely successful this season he needs help from Robert Sacre so that he can play power forward. Josh struggles in back to the basket situations and is much more comfortable with a face-up style of play. He has shown flashes of a very good hook shot and the ability to post up but it seems as though the desire is no there to do so. Desire is a big question for Josh in general as many have questioned his effort level since returning to Gonzaga. Before the arrest, Heytvelt had a look and edge about him when he played. When Josh returned last year, he did not have the same swagger but once he got more and more comfortable, we saw some of that swagger return and if the Zags are to be successful, they are going to need all of it.
Projected Role: Barring any more complications with Josh's stress fracture, he will be a starter and will see plenty of action as he is one of the Bulldogs' biggest threats. The question still remains as to what position he will play this season. If he plays the bulk of his minutes at power forward, I expect him to have his best season at Gonzaga. If he plays center he will largely be playing out of position and having responsibilities that he is not used to having. The Zags are thin as can be in the interior so he will see some minutes at center but you can bet that he is watching Robert Sacre very curiously this offseason. A starting lineup with both Sacre and Josh would be, if nothing else, very intimidating for opposing WCC teams.
Summer Assignment: It feels like we could have broke Gonzaga's players into two categories: first, guys that need to heal and secondly, guys that need to take 100's of shots everyday. Josh would benefit from both. First and foremost, he must be healthy to have a positive impact on this team. The last thing Gonzaga needs is for him to play the first 3 games and be sidelined the rest of the season because he was not fully healthy to start. He may not need to take 100's of shots but he has got to become more comfortable with back the basket play as he will be called to play center at times. There's a easy way to spot when Josh is healthy and comfortable. Just wait for an opportunity for a monster dunk and if he takes the opportunity and lets out a barbaric scream afterwards, you know he has arrived.