Mention the word “project” around Gonzaga women’s assistant basketball coach Craig Fortier and you’ll get a friendly lecture on the dangers of jumping to early conclusions.
“I think sometimes that word gets a bad rap,” said Fortier, who handles the Gonzaga forwards and post players.
“It’s as if you’re saying that a player may never reach that potential,” Fortier said before practice on Monday.
Almost on cue, sophomore Anamaria Virjoghe began to warm up for practice in the Volkar Center gym.
A native of Romania, Virjoghe is a 6-foot-5 transfer from Northwest Christian, an NAIA school in Eugene.
And yes, she’s a project.
Then again, according to Fortier, so was former GU star Jill Barta, who went from redshirt freshman to West Coast Conference MVP.
Likewise, forward Kiara Kudron struggled for starting time – even redshirting midcareer – until making All-WCC as a senior.
Fortier had already made his point, but he wasn’t done.
Four years ago, the Zags’ biggest project was Zykera Rice, who struggled with the basics early in her career before emerging as the dominant player in the conference.
“Most people would say that Zykera wasn’t a project, but she didn’t play much for two years,” Fortier said.
“Ana is a project in the same way that those guys were projects. I think she’s on track with her development.”
For the more optimistic Zag fans, that will be measured by the number of impactful minutes Virjoghe will provide in relief of forwards Jenn and LeeAnne Wirth.
So far so good: Two days earlier, Virjoghe made the most of her 12 1/2 minutes on the court during GU’s 105-45 exhibition win over Warner Pacific.
“At halftime, I came in and I was surprised that Ana had four rebounds in 3 minutes,” head coach Lisa Fortier said after the game. “She’s valuable around the basket.”
Virjoghe filled the stat line as well as the paint: eight points on 4-for-5 shooting, seven boards, one assist and a steal.
It was a solid start, but it’s too early to extrapolate that into visualizing Virjoghe holding her own against 6-7 Sara Hamson of BYU.
Not even Virjoghe will go there. After all, this was her first game in 18 months after the transfer from NWC.
“Last year was so hard for me,” Virjoghe said. “This year it’s so different. I feel like I can contribute to the team.
“Coach Craig said I can get on the court if I can rebound. Then I will get some minutes.”
But how many? That will depend not only on Virjoghe but other factors: the stamina of the Wirth twins, the development of true freshman forward Eliza Hollingsworth as well as sophomore Melody Kempton, though the latter also may spell Jill Townsend on the wing.
“Sometimes when you look at it from the outside, you want it to happen now,” Craig Fortier said. “But post play isn’t low-lying fruit. It’s something that takes time to develop.
“But she has potential, she knows how to shoot the ball, and she’s stronger. There are going to be flashes – it’s a question of how few and far between.”
Those flashes grew more frequent during Virjoghe’s freshman season at NWC, which coincidentally began in the Kennel on Nov. 5, 2017, in an exhibition against the Zags.
Virjoghe’s stats in that game were modest – seven points and four rebounds in 18 minutes – but by season’s end she was the Cascade Collegiate Conference Freshman of the Year and All-CCC.
She also collected an offer to play for the Zags, and Virjoghe hopes to make the most of it.
“I learned a lot last year, just doing the hard work … and that you have to run hard every time, even if you’re tired,” Virjoghe said. “But I want to be there for my teammates and help them win games.”
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