Gonzaga will have a very international look next season with Killian Tillie, Rui Hachimura, Jacob Larsen and Joel Ayayi – Photos from FIBA/FIBA Europe

The end of Killian Tillie’s 2016-17 magical season with Gonzaga may not have had the fairytale ending he and the Zags had hoped for. But the Frenchman says he is excited about his second year in Spokane with increased play from improved roommate Rui Hachimura, healthy Danish big man Jacob Larsen and newly-recruited compatriot Joel Ayayi.

Tillie averaged 4.2 points, 3.2 rebounds and 0.7 steals in 12.3 minutes in his freshman campaign with Gonzaga and the highlight was making two free throws with 2.2 seconds left in the NCAA national semi-final to secure the Zags’ 77-73 victory over South Carolina to advance to the final.

With leaders Przemek Karnowski, Jordan Matthews, Nigel Williams-Goss and Zach Collins – four of the team’s top five scorers – all leaving campus, the versatile 6-foot-10 Tillie will be needed to step up in year two. The Cagnes-sur-Mer native should be fine with that given his first year of development and adjustment behind him.

That is even more the case with Hachimura, the exciting 6-foot-8 wing from Sendai, Japan. The biggest hope in Japanese basketball struggled during his freshman season mainly because of his language skills. He played in 28 of Gonzaga’s 39 games but really produced when he got on the court with 2.6 points and 1.4 rebounds in his 4.6 minutes per game.

Tillie knows Hachimura very well, especially since the two internationals are roommates. And Tillie is very impressed with the Japanese wing.

“Rui is an amazing player,” Tillie said. “He’s athletic, he can do everything on the court. It’s true he didn’t have a lot of minutes this year, but he’s working hard.”

Tillie said Hachimura’s lack of playing time actually may have been a benefit to him.

“By not playing he has had a lot of time this season to work out. So he’s improved a lot. Next year he’s going to be good for Gonzaga,” Tillie said.

“I love Rui. He’s a great teammate. He’s my roommate, too. So it’s going to be fun to play with him.”

Another international ready for more run next season is Danish big man Jacob Larsen, who has missed the whole season with an injury very early in the pre-season.

Larsen said his time with Gonzaga and watching the likes of Karnowski and Collins really helped him.

“Observing them from the sidelines really gives me a good idea of what the level of basketball is here,” Larsen said. “I got to see what works for them, what doesn’t work for them and maybe adjust to that once I’m able to play.”

Gonzaga next season will have much more of an international feel with that trio, resulting in Tillie to say: “It’s gonna be fun with a lot of international players on the team.”

But there is one more international for Gonzaga fans to enjoy watching – Frenchman Joel Ayayi, an explosive guard who spent one season with Tillie at the esteemed French academy INSEP and playing at the CFBB team.

“He has crazy talent too,” Tillie said. “He’s going to help us a lot with his talent and sitze and everything. If he works hard at Gonzaga he can become a great player.”

 Ayayi for his part is also very much looking forward to playing with Tillie.

“I am very excited about playing with him. Don’t forget, he was the MVP of the FIBA U16 European Championship 2014, and I know what he can do on the court. So it’s exciting for sure,” said Ayayi, who was born in 2000 compared to Tillie’s 1998.

He said he spent a lot of time with Tillie and Hachimura on his visit and added: “I am ready to do something big with them.”

When asked what his favorite moment of Tillie from their time together at INSEP, Ayayi said: “It was when we were at the end of the season and we were waiting for out exam. We went to the gym all week long and practiced together and we were always together.”

The international family just got that much better at Gonzaga.

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