Tommy Lloyd has been everywhere, man, he’s been everywhere.
The longtime Gonzaga assistant coach has piloted the program’s global recruiting, one of the driving forces in the Zags’ rise as a national power.
Lloyd helped steer international standouts Ronny Turiaf, Elias Harris, Kelly Olynyk, Kevin Pangos, Przemek Karnowski, Domantas Sabonis and Rui Hachimura, among others, to Spokane. There are few boundaries when it comes to locating top recruits.
“It’s where the prospects have been,” Lloyd said.
And it’s where the Zags have been hugely successful over the years, establishing a foothold overseas that few, if any, competitors can match. It sprouted early on when Lloyd, who played professionally in Germany and Australia, was asked by head coach Mark Few to broaden the Zags’ recruiting horizons.
That was the first part of the equation. The second part has been developing a proven blueprint for international players to thrive at Gonzaga.
“Just their experience with international players and bigs in the past, like Ronny,” said senior forward Killian Tillie, when asked what made Gonzaga the right choice for him. “And the fact that the community is so great and loves basketball.”
Tillie (France) is one of six internationals on this year’s team: the others are Joel Ayayi (France), Martynas Arlauskas (Lithuania), Pavel Zakharov (Russia), Filip Petrusev (Serbia) and Oumar Ballo (Mali).
Tillie caught Lloyd’s eye at the FIBA U16 European Championships after leading France to the title and winning MVP honors. Tillie’s older brothers, Kim (Utah basketball) and Kevin (UC Irvine volleyball) left home to play in the U.S.
“We knew he probably had an interest because his older brothers came over,” said Lloyd, who visited the Tillie family in France. “So we jumped on it and started recruiting him.”
Tillie picked Gonzaga over Utah and Georgia Tech. Cal and Miami also showed interest.
“I knew I wanted to go to GU, I liked it, but on the other side I still had to focus on my high school stuff and high school team,” Tillie recalled. “I just let my parents talk to Tommy most of the time.”
Tillie played a role in countryman Ayayi’s arrival in Spokane.
“Oh yeah,” Tillie said. “When he came on his visit I showed him around.”
Ayayi, who is in line for substantial minutes this season, made a name for himself as a standout on French age-group teams.
“He was recruited by quite a few schools,” said Lloyd, who will discuss Gonzaga’s international recruiting Monday at a Northwest Passages event at the Bing Crosby Theater. “We got him after the run to the (2017) national championship game. We had a lot of scholarships available. I knew it was a long-term play and there was a chance he’d redshirt. He graduated high school and was just 17 years old.”
Lloyd learned of Petrusev while recruiting another Serbian that landed elsewhere. Petrusev played his senior year at powerhouse Montverde (Florida) Academy and appeared on Gonzaga’s radar while Lloyd was watching another Montverde standout, point guard Andrew Nembhard, who eventually signed with Florida.
“I saw Filip and re-engaged with him and one thing led to another,” Lloyd said.
Arlauskas had built-in connections to Gonzaga. He played briefly with former Zag Kevin Pangos for Zalgiris, a pro team in Lithuania. Arlauskas’ father, Mindaugas, was teammates in the 1980s with Arvydas Sabonis, whose son Domantas was an All-American at Gonzaga.
“Martynas was a really good young player for Lithuanian national teams, and I’ve obviously been to Lithuania quite a few times and have a good relationship with people there,” Lloyd said. “The connection and familiarity were there, with Domas having played here.”
Lloyd hasn’t been to Ballo’s homeland of Mali or to Zakharov’s native Russia, but he saw both players excel at international tournaments.
Lloyd also visited Ballo on Spain’s Canary Islands, where the 6-foot-11 center attended the Canterbury International Basketball Academy.
“His name popped up a few years ago,” Lloyd said. “An article on ESPN was the first I heard about him. He played really well at the African U16 championships, and he was a big kid already.”
The NCAA recently ruled Ballo will be an academic redshirt this season.
Zakharov played for Russian youth national teams and was interested in coming to the U.S. He was in Montverde’s Center for Basketball Development program last year.
“We reached out when he was younger and developed a relationship,” Lloyd said. “He has a ton of potential.”
It’s a safe bet future Gonzaga rosters will have a strong international presence.
“I still think it’s an area where a lot of people don’t know how to navigate,” said Lloyd, who has countless contacts, stays in touch with scouts and keeps a close eye on various national team rosters. “We feel comfortable that we can recruit with almost anybody on a lot of overseas kids as long as we put in the work and they’re a good fit.
“We’re comfortable our track record can match up with anybody.”
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