LAS VEGAS — There have been plenty of eyes on Gonzaga basketball here this week, beyond the thousands of fans in T-Mobile Arena seats cheering on the Zags or their opponents.
The combination of No. 1 Gonzaga’s showdowns against No. 2 UCLA and No. 5 Duke and a tantalizing clash of projected top draft picks Chet Holmgren and Paolo Banchero is proving to be a drawing card for large numbers of media and NBA scouts.
An estimated 78 media members and 25 NBA executives/scouts attended Gonzaga’s wins over Central Michigan on Monday and the Bruins on Tuesday, according to Ray Cella, director of communications for The Gazelle Group, promoter of the two-day Good Sam Empire Classic.
“That’s more than I thought there would be because a lot of people aren’t traveling (with COVID-19 concerns) and the newspaper business being what it is,” Cella said. “Three years ago, the numbers would have probably been twice that.”
The Zags have numerous players, led by Holmgren, national player of the year candidate Drew Timme, point guard Andrew Nembhard and highly-ranked freshmen, on the radar on NBA talent evaluators, who also checked out UCLA standouts Johnny Juzang, Jaime Jaquez Jr., and freshman Peyton Watson.
Credentials issued as of Wednesday for Friday’s GU-Duke game — roughly 80 media and 44 NBA executives — could grow before tipoff, according to Jon Albaugh, tournament director of the Continental Tire Challenge.
“It’s kind of low (for the media),” Albaugh said, “but I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s 25 local media that show up and kind of realize that they should go to that game.”
NBA scouts had an opportunity to pick when and where to put their focus during the week with Sin City hosting the Roman Main Event, Maui Invitational, Good Sam Empire Classic, Las Vegas Invitational, Las Vegas Classic and Continental Tire Classic.
“Some (scouts) will be going home for Thanksgiving or they could hit all these teams over a 3-day period,” Albaugh said. “Your options are seeing these two (Duke and Gonzaga) one time or maybe see 10 teams earlier in the week. And you’re probably going to see Duke and Gonzaga (down the road) regardless.”
Gonzaga-Duke was announced as sold-out in June, but there appears to be a small number of tickets available, including some that are standing room only or limited view. A link on T-Mobile Arena’s website indicated ticket availability, which may include resale tickets, priced between $70-$799. T-Mobile seats 18,000 for basketball.
A generously announced crowd of 7,029 watched Gonzaga-Central Michigan and 12,795 witnessed Gonzaga’s 83-63 win over the Bruins on Tuesday.
The Roman Main Event had 50 NBA representatives and a media list of 120, many of those affiliated with participating schools Arizona, Michigan, UNLV and Wichita State, according to Albaugh, tournament director for the two-day event.
Arizona routed then-No. 4 Michigan in the title game in front of 8,624 at T-Mobile Arena.