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Can Gonzaga thrive and survive without Killian Tille? Only time will tell.

UPDATED: Tue., Feb. 12, 2019

Joakim Noah once described playing with plantar fasciitis “like you have needles underneath your feet.”

Kobe Bryant, Tim Duncan, Pau Gasol, Jason Kidd, Damian Lillard and Frank Mason are among NBA players who have dealt with the condition.

Add Gonzaga’s Killian Tillie to the list. Coach Mark Few told Stadium’s Jeff Goodman that Tillie has a partial tear of the plantar fascia, the band of tissue on the bottom of the foot between the heel and toes.

When Gonzaga announced in October that Tillie had surgery to repair a stress fracture in his right ankle, the release noted an approximate recovery time of eight weeks. That turned out to be nearly spot on. The school issued another release Saturday on Tillie’s latest injury, noting the timeline to return is “uncertain.”

It’s tough to pin down an exact recovery timeline from plantar fascia injuries because individual cases vary greatly. Some, like Noah in 2013, played with considerable pain. Lillard missed seven games – the first of his then four-year pro career – during the 2016 season. Mason was out for 21 games last season. Baseball legend Albert Pujols battled the painful condition for nine years.

The third-ranked Zags hope they haven’t seen the last of Tillie this season.

Gonzaga has six regular-season games left before heading to Las Vegas for the West Coast Conference Tournament. First-round NCAA Tournament games begin March 21.

“Hopefully, we can get him treated and we’ve got some time,” said Few, who had a bout with plantar fasciitis and recalls dreading the painful first steps every morning. “If all goes well and the prayers are answered, we’ll get him back for the postseason.”

Initial treatment typically is rest, ice, massage, taping and the possibility of a walking boot or orthotics, physical therapists said. Noah experienced some relief with platelet-rich plasma injections.

Gonzaga’s release said Tillie won’t need surgery.

“The difficulty is that basketball places so much stress on that area, the amount of force on the foot and the explosion,” according to an area physical therapist.

Tillie’s absence is a blow to Gonzaga’s postseason aspirations, but the Zags demonstrated they can play at a high level without the 6-foot-10 forward in the first two months of the season.

Gonzaga won its first nine games, including a thriller over top-ranked Duke in the Maui Invitational, to reach No. 1 with Tillie sidelined. The Zags also dropped to No. 8 after consecutive losses to Tennessee and North Carolina, but they still had the nation’s most efficient offense.

Most analysts still consider Gonzaga a Final Four and national championship contender. The Zags’ odds of winning the title dropped slightly from 8/1 to 9/1 following the news of Tillie’s injury, according to BetOnLine.

“The good news is they beat Duke without him and had a lot of success without him,” Jeff Goodman said. “I would have had the Zags, with a healthy Tillie, as the favorite and my pick to win it all.”

Of course, this is all guesswork since it is unknown how long Tillie will be out. What is known is that a healthy Tillie, with his experience and versatile offensive game, was a key member of the 2017 and 2018 teams. His absence, because of a hip injury, was felt when the Zags lost to Florida State 75-60 in last year’s Sweet 16.

The Zags have cruised through the WCC season, which allowed an opportunity to lighten some of starting forwards Rui Hachimura’s and Brandon Clarke’s workload. The duo, and the rest of the starters, didn’t get much of a break when the Zags faced a demanding nonconference stretch from Nov. 15 to Dec. 15.

The bulk of Tillie’s time – an average of 17 minutes a game in his nine appearances – will go to talented 6-11 freshman Filip Petrusev, who was the third big when Tillie was sidelined in November and December.

The Zags are pulling for Tillie to make a speedy recovery so they have a full roster in March.

“He’s just had a really, really tough run,” Few said. “It’s tough, especially when he’s such a good kid, so coachable and such an awesome teammate. He just has so much basketball in there that we just want him to get healthy so he can get back to showing that.”

Gonzaga coach Mark Few speaks with forward Killian Tillie (33) on the sideline during a Jan. 17 game against Loyola Marymount. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)
Gonzaga coach Mark Few speaks with forward Killian Tillie (33) on the sideline during a Jan. 17 game against Loyola Marymount. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)

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