Thursday, November 20, 2008

TKR Exclusive: Interview with Pablo Torre of Sports Illustrated

I couldn't be anymore excited to present TKR readers with this terrific interview that we were able to facilitate. TKR has been given the truly rare opportunity to pick the mind of Pablo Torre, who writes for Sports Illustrated. Pablo did much of the research and scouting for the recent Sports Illustrated preview of the Gonzaga Bulldogs. It is a rare opportunity to discuss this team with a person who has as much insight and information as Pablo. TKR would like to thank Pablo, as well as Chris Mahr and Kevin Sachs, who made this interview possible.

TKR: With this being his senior year, do you think Gonzaga fans will see the pre-suspension Josh Heytvelt, or is he not capable of returning to that form?

Pablo Torre: I think he is still quite capable, and barring any other injury-related setbacks, I'd bet on him being closer to the pre-suspension Heytvelt of yore. The talent is still there: coaches will tell you that being hurt last year affected his conditioning and caused a pretty marked loss of explosiveness, which he does rely on quite a bit. He seems to be back now. And I also think that having the spotlight on him now as a senior--especially with that boneheaded off-the-court drug stuff--should actually keep him focused, if he wasn't already.

TKR: Micah Downs had a terrific summer, and recently started in the opening exhibition game. What role do you expect Micah to have for the team this year, and do you think he will finally reach his full potential?

Pablo Torre;
His role will be increased, no question. His main talent is that he's a marksman, and if he stays hot--last year, there were stretches when he was making shots from everywhere--he'll be challenging Gray and Bouldin for playing time. You don't want to take too much away from a game against Idaho, of course, but a performance along the lines of 5-8 from the field, 3-5 from three and 5-5 from the line for 18 points might not be all that uncommon. A big part of that consistency of performance, of course, will depend on how well he's integrated into the team off the court and in the classroom, allowing him to shed his present rep as a slightly inscrutable hoops nomad.

TKR: In Jeremy Pargo, Gonzaga has one of the top Point Guards in the country. Where do you rank Pargo among PG's in college basketball, and what type of season do you expect from him?

Pablo Torre:
I think I'd put him in the latter half of the Top 10 with the caveat that he can score on anyone above him. And though apparently likens him to Marcus Banks, I think he'll be better than that (and better than his older brother, Jannero, for whatever that's worth). At the very least, he's a big game scorer: 22 points against San Diego in WCC final, 18 and 27 in two games Saint Mary's, 25 against Memphis, 28 against Oklahoma, 23 against UConn. Not a bad resume, although with the scorers on this team this year, I don't think he'll need to do it quite as much--which is helpful to him, by the way, as he'll need to show NBA teams that he's not just a converted shooting guard but someone who can genuinely distribute. That said, I don't think he'll be the best point guard in the WCC. That's Patty Mills, who's Top Five in my opinion heading into the season (along with--in no particular order--Stephen Curry, Darren Collison, Jonny Flynn and Ty Lawson).

TKR: The injury scare to Austin Daye was one of the big stories this summer. How healthy do you think Austin is, and is he capable of carrying this team to a Final 4 and a national championship.

Pablo Torre: By all accounts Austin's fine, and I think Mark Few thanks St. Ignatius Loyola every night that it was just a bone bruise and minor ligament tear instead of a fully ripped ACL. And ironically, being forced to rehab and work out in the gym this summer should be a blessing in disguise for him: as Kelli Anderson reported in our preview issue, Daye wound up putting on significant weight (16 pounds, bringing him to 206), which is definitely a welcome addition. Last year, the guy was 8 inches taller than his point guard but about 30 pounds lighter. Now, he has all the tools in the world: the NBA pedigree (thanks to his dad); the height (6'10) and wingspan (7'5); and certainly the touch (he shot 41.3% from three). With that new weight, Few says he wants to have him bang around inside more. If he can do that, the upside is terrifying. (And Austin himself has vowed that anything less than an Elite Eight will be a disappointment, which you like to see.)

TKR: One of the more exciting prospects on the team this year is Demetri Goodson. How big of a contribution can he make this year, and do you think he is an NBA talent?

Pablo Torre:
I'm going to hold off on the NBA talk for Meech at this point, as I'd really have to see him play more. But the skillset he brings will definitely soften the blow once Jeremy leaves--Goodson is one of the fastest kids Gonzaga's had in recent memory, and he's more of a pure point. If his shot develops, he can be a real weapon. I like him as a potential steadying force off the bench to spell Pargo: he won't be able to replicate his scoring, but he'll fit quite nicely into the flex offense.

TKR: One of the big question marks entering the season is frontcourt depth. While we know what we will get out of Austin and Josh for the most part, what can we expect from Ira Brown, Rob Sacre, and Will Foster?

Pablo Torre: Out of that trio, all you hope for, and really need, is energy and rebounding. They have tremendous size (Sacre at 7'0, and Foster at an absurd 7'4), obviously, which helps, and the coaches will bring Ira Brown off the bench to spell Daye and help defend the bigger-bodied forwards in the paint. The good news is that the frontcourt outside of Austin and Josh shouldn't need to score. They just need to be able to bang inside and run some in relief.

TKR: Do you believe that this team has the talent and the depth to make the Final 4 and compete for the National Championship?

Pablo Torre:
They really do have the talent, yes. SI has them at No. 13 right now, but I'd say that their upside is along the Elite Eight lines. And if everyone stays healthy, at that point, I don't see why a Final Four isn't out of the question.

TKR: What do you feel is the biggest issue/factor that could prevent this team from reaching its potential?

Pablo Torre:
I think Josh Heytvelt either getting hurt or regressing is the biggest thing you fear (though as I said, I wouldn't bet on it). I think Gray, Bouldin, Daye and Pargo will all be there in the end. They just need a post presence inside, and he's it. If he isn't, the coaching staff won't be able to sleep easy in March.

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