Gonzaga fans can recite rapid-fire the names of recent sit-out transfers that became stars in the program: Kyle Wiltjer, Nigel Williams-Goss, Johnathan Williams, Brandon Clarke.
So can newest GU commitment Andrew Nembhard, who also can rattle off a list of Zags with ties to his native Canada: Kevin Pangos, Kelly Olynyk, Robert Sacre, Wiltjer and Clarke, the latter two holding dual U.S. and Canadian citizenship.
Gonzaga bolstered its future roster in a big way Tuesday with the addition of Nembhard, a transfer from the University of Florida who grew up in Aurora, near Toronto.
Nembhard picked Gonzaga over Duke, Georgetown, Memphis, USC and Stanford. He made the announcement on Twitter with a post captioned “New Beginnings” next to a picture of Nembhard wearing a No. 2 Gonzaga uniform.
“Gonzaga checks a lot of boxes for me,” he said in a phone interview. “The style of play suits me, I think I can jell with the players and I feel very comfortable with the coaching staff. I think I can succeed as a player and off the court.”
Nembhard has numerous connections with Gonzaga. Nembhard and GU forward Filip Petrusev were teammates at Montverde (Florida) Academy, which won the 2018 Geico High School Nationals.
Nembhard, who grew up about 10 minutes from Pangos, has played with Pangos, Olynyk and Wiltjer on Canadian national teams the last few years, including the FIBA World Cup last summer.
“They’re big for me, just to feel even more comfortable with the program,” Nembhard said. “I talked to most of those guys and picked their brains about their experience with Gonzaga and the school and they had nothing but great reviews.”
Nembhard had great reviews for Gonzaga’s blueprint with sit-out transfers. He will sit out next season under NCAA transfer rules and then have two years of eligibility.
“There’s a history of having success with sit-out transfers,” said Nembhard, No. 2 in ESPN’s ranking of sit-out transfers. “I feel that I will get a lot better as a player. I’m really looking to work on my body, getting it where it needs to be, getting as healthy as possible and then keep improving my shot.
“It’ll be a great learning experience on the mental side, getting close to the coaches and helping the team get better any way possible.”
Nembhard’s dad, Claude, knows the Olynyk, Pangos and Triano families. Dustin Triano was a GU walk-on and dad Jay coached Canada’s national team and has been an NBA head and assistant coach. Claude called Kevin Pangos a “very good mentor for Andrew, like a big brother.”
Nembhard, ranked 20th nationally by 247sports coming out of high school, was a two-year starter for the Gators. He submitted his name for the NBA draft but withdrew in late May and promptly entered the transfer portal. The Zags were a finalist for Nembhard in 2017 when he picked Florida.
He averaged 11.2 points and 5.6 assists last year as a sophomore. He made 49% of his 2-point shots, 32.7% on 3s and 77% at the free-throw line in two seasons.
Nembhard’s 6-foot-5, 193-pound frame make him one of the biggest point guards in college basketball. He has a natural feel for the game and operates effectively in the half-court and transition. He’s a high-level passer with an ability to score.
He’ll probably spend the upcoming season at practice going against incoming freshman Jalen Suggs, the presumed starter at point guard. Suggs is projected by many as a one-and-done prospect, which would open the position for Nembhard in the 2021-22 season.
“We are excited to have a player and person like Andrew in our program,” GU coach Mark Few said in a school release. “He is going to be a great addition and I look forward to working with him.”