Gonzaga international players find holiday cheer with assist from assistant coach Tommy Lloyd
Some Gonzaga basketball players probably set sprinting records dashing through the airport early Saturday morning to catch flights home.
But several Zags, including four international players, won’t get called for traveling over the Christmas holiday.
The distance home and time pinch between Gonzaga’s rout over Denver on Friday night and a Wednesday practice doesn’t make it feasible for Killian Tillie (France), Joel Ayayi (France), Filip Petrusev (Serbia) and Rui Hachimura (Japan) to head home.
So they’re sticking together in Spokane.
“I’m going to spend time with those guys, the international guys,” Hachimura said.
That often involves a trip to assistant coach Tommy Lloyd’s house. It’s become a holiday tradition for Lloyd and his family to host international Zags on Christmas Eve, dating back to Ronny Turiaf’s GU career from 2002-05.
“My kids don’t know any different other than sharing it with the players,” said Lloyd, who is largely responsible for the program’s success recruiting overseas. “My wife (Chanelle) loves taking care of the guys and looking after them. It’s become a family deal.”
The whole crew usually goes sledding on tubes, a first for many international players.
“This year we have some injuries, so we’ll see,” said Lloyd, referring to Tillie recovering from ankle surgery and Minneapolis native Geno Crandall, who is staying in Spokane, close to returning from a fractured right hand. “One year we bought tickets and we pulled into Bear Creek Lodge, which is below Mt. Spokane, and they said we didn’t have our reservation.
“They were actually for Mt. Spokane, but there was an ambulance in the parking lot. We had Domas (Sabonis) with us and I thought, ‘It’s probably a sign.’ The last thing I need is to take Domas sledding and he gets hurt.”
The next stop before returning to Lloyd’s house typically includes picking up food at Buffalo Wild Wings.
Former Gonzaga center Przemek Karnowski squeezed in a holiday trip to Poland in 2012 to surprise his friends and family. It took about 20 hours of travel time to spend a few days at home.
Tillie’s parents will be with son Kim in Spain for the holiday. Kim plays for Gran Canaria, which was ex-Zag Kevin Pangos’ first professional stop a few years ago.
Hachimura was in his native Japan in September for a few days for a FIBA World Cup Asian qualifier game. He said the holiday agenda at home was having a nice family dinner and watching a Christmas movie.
Some Zags seemed more worried about their palates than a haul of gifts.
“My mom making some home-cooked food,” said Chicago native Zach Norvell Jr. “I don’t care what it is, just anything. I know it’s going to be great. Being back with family is all I can ask for right now.”
Point guard Josh Perkins has multiple holiday stops planned in Denver.
“Split household, so I kind of have it good,” Perkins said. “I get to go to mom’s, dad’s, my friends’, so I get three Christmases. Just being with cousins, sisters, little brothers, the fam. They’re clowns, hilarious people.”
Players and coaches need time away from basketball to recharge, Lloyd said.
“We were all running on empty coming into North Carolina, even Tennessee, then finals and then going to play Carolina,” Lloyd said. “Just to get back home, sleep at home, you kind of get back to a normal life.”
Asked what he wants from Santa this year, Hachimura sounds like he might be busy coaching up Mark Few’s daughter, Julia.
“I was actually talking about it with Coach Few’s daughter about Santa,” Hachimura said, “She said she doesn’t believe anymore so I was kind of shocked because I still believe in Santa.”