The call from Gonzaga was a game-changer.
Braden Huff, a coveted high-major recruit with a surplus of offers at that level, started hearing from coach Mark Few’s high-powered program in July.
“When I got that first call, I remember I was at one of our AAU tournaments and I saw a call on my phone from Spokane, Wash., and I was immediately excited,” Huff said of that first contact from Gonzaga assistant coach Roger Powell.
The Zags soon checked off box after box as the Glenbard West senior became more familiar with Gonzaga and the coaching staff.
Following an official visit to Gonzaga this past weekend, Huff committed to Few, Powell and arguably the hottest basketball program in the country on Sunday.
A student of the game, Huff was familiar with more than just Gonzaga’s win totals and success. He was well aware of the type of players the Bulldogs have developed and won with over the years.
“I was excited immediately because I knew their track record and history with bigs like me — even before they started recruiting me,” said Huff. “I kind of understood how they developed those guys. I think having that understanding prior to them reaching out, along with them coming off the kind of season they had, led to a lot of excitement for me.”
Huff, who averaged 17.5 points, 6.5 rebounds and 2.8 assists in just 22 minutes a game this past season, is the quintessential Gonzaga big man. He’s blessed with a skill level you rarely see in players at his size. With his dribbling and passing ability, along with range out to the three-point line, he’s a 6-10 player teams can run an offense through.
Several Big Ten programs were locked in on Huff throughout the recruiting process. But in the end it came down to Gonzaga and Virginia Tech, where Huff took two official visits — one in June and a return trip to Blacksburg in September.
The high-profile Gonzaga program had some ground to make up and did just that over the past two-plus months.
“Coach Powell did a great job making me feel a part of it, even from a distance,” said Huff, who is the City/Suburban Hoops Report’s No. 2 ranked player in the state in the Class of 2022. “It felt like family pretty quickly, and they made me feel wanted and welcomed. Then I fell in love with it on my visit.”
Huff’s visit included watching a couple of practices and seeing the likes of preseason All-American big man Drew Timme and freshman Chet Holmgren, the projected No. 1 pick in the 2022 NBA Draft, up close.
“I really enjoyed watching them go live and go at it,” said Huff. “Watching guys like Drew Timme and Chet [Holmgren] and seeing them bring the ball up and do the things they did with the ball, that’s what I have to offer with my game. They give the players the freedom to do that and that really caught my eye.”
In addition to the quick connection he made with the coaching staff, the detailed Huff was impressed with the plan they showed in helping him develop into the player he wants to be.
“We met with the strength coach and he walked us through his process,” said Huff. “I definitely feel like he is someone who can help take my game to another level.
“And, honestly, just meeting with the coaches and players in person, I really felt like it was a group of guys that reminded me of kids on my high school team and AAU team with the Wolves. I felt like I fit right in and they were all about the right things.”
Roughly two years ago the City/Suburban Hoops Report tabbed Huff as “The state’s best unknown prospect.” Now he’s just over a month away from signing with Gonzaga, a program with a pair of national runner-up finishes in the last five years and an average of 33 wins a year during that time.
“If you would have told me this when I was a freshman, I wouldn’t have believed it,” Huff said of heading to a powerhouse like Gonzaga. “But now I’m just excited and want to get to work.”
The program has been to the NCAA Tournament every year since 1999 and has a growing list of NBA big men who developed under Few, including Zach Collins, Kelly Olynyk, Domantas Sabonis and Rui Hachimura to name a few and Tille and Holmgren to come.
Before Huff heads off to the Pacific Northwest next summer and joins one of the winningest programs in college basketball, Huff will lead a Glenbard West team that should be the best in school history. The Hilltoppers will be fighting for a state championship in 2021-22.
“Now that it’s off my chest,” Huff said of his recruitment, “I am ready to focus on the high school season and lock in with my teammates and reach some of those goals that we have set for ourselves.”