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Former Gonzaga standout Killian Tillie preps for next step in career

UPDATED: Thu., July 2, 2020

The resilient, positive attitude that defined Killian Tillie during four seasons at Gonzaga continues to serve him well with basketball essentially sidelined by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Tillie battled through an assortment of injuries and contributed on two of the best teams in school history – the 2016-17 squad that lost in the national championship game and the 2018-19 crew that reached the Elite Eight – while becoming a popular teammate and fan favorite.

Tillie has spent the past three-plus months resting and getting his body right for the next step in his career after the coronavirus shelved the NCAA Tournament in mid-March.

“I’ve been kind of stuck in Spokane,” the 6-foot-10 native of France said Thursday during a Northwest Passages Virtual Forum. “I could have gone back home and seen my family, but I don’t think it would have been smart. I needed to stay here in case I needed to be in the country for workouts, for draft purposes.

“I love the city, so it’s not a bad place to be.”

Northwest Passages Virtual Forum / The Spokesman-Review

Spokane embraced Tillie, in part because of his versatile game but also because he maintained his sense of humor and remained upbeat whether he was on the mend or delivering on the court. He joked that he knows “everybody in all the hospitals, I even know the secretaries.”

“Every time I stepped on the court, I just gave it everything,” Tillie said. “I gave my heart, even played through injuries, tried coming back from injuries. I gave everything to Gonzaga.”

The downtime could turn out to be beneficial for Tillie, who has been a steady presence on NBA mock drafts, generally in the early-to-mid second round. He has additional time to heal and begin ramping up in case NBA workouts are permitted prior to the Oct. 16 draft.

Tillie has spent quite a bit of time at U-District Physical Therapy, which has a basketball hoop in addition to PT services and equipment.

“It’s kind of a blessing for me in disguise,” he said. “I can get healthy and have a lot of time to focus on my body.

“Honestly, my body feels great. This time off is, like, a good thing for me. I’m trying to stay on top of all my previous injuries and be ready for next season. It (his body) is getting close. I’m trying to get really strong and ready to play a lot of games.”

It’s still not easy for Tillie to talk about the abrupt end to the season. The Zags (31-2) were one of the title favorites and nearly certain to be a top seed playing in the Spokane Arena on the opening weekend.

“I thought it wasn’t a joke, but I thought (the NCAA) was going to go back on their decision and we’d keep playing,” Tillie said. “It’s tough to think about even right now. It was hard because it was my last chance to go win a national championship for Spokane, because I think the city deserves it.”

Tillie’s shooting range – he hit 13 of 14 3-pointers while earning 2018 West Coast Conference Tournament MVP honors – passing ability and natural feel for the game should translate at the next level.

He’s been labeled by some as a sleeper pick, a first-round talent who figures to go in the second round but could impact games in a variety of ways, provided he stays healthy. If he makes an NBA roster, he’d become the fourth player from GU’s 2016 recruiting class to wear an NBA uniform, joining former roommate Rui Hachimura, Zach Collins and Zach Norvell Jr.

Tillie has conducted Zoom interviews with more than 20 teams.

His draft position is “probably like the beginning of the second round, and then pretty positive feedback on my game,” Tillie said. “Everybody knows it’s just my injuries. I just need a team that trusts my body and trusts how I feel right now, and I’ll be good to go.”

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