Alex Toohey

Alex Toohey (center) poses in front of a bulldog statue on Gonzaga’s campus with his parents during a recent visit to Spokane. The Australian wing became the second player to sign with Mark Few’s Zags in the 2023 recruiting class.

Prior to becoming a top recruiting target for Mark Few and his coaching staff, Alex Toohey’s knowledge of Gonzaga basketball largely centered around two people.

The first of those, John Rillie, would’ve been fairly predictable. Rillie was the first Australian-born player to sign with the Bulldogs, transferring to Gonzaga from Tacoma Community College in 1992 while Few was an assistant under Dan Fitzgerald.

Rillie, a member of GU’s first NCAA Tournament team who’s now coaching the Perth Wildcats of Australia’s NBL (National Basketball League), became a valuable resource for Toohey – and key pitch man for the Zags – while the Canberra native was navigating his college recruitment.

“I know the first (Australian at Gonzaga) was John Rillie and I’ve actually had a few chats with him now,” Toohey told The Spokesman-Review earlier this week. “... I’ve talked to him quite a bit and he loved it.”

As for the other figure Toohey associated with GU basketball? Take a hundred swings and you still wouldn’t guess.

In December 2018 and January 2019, Toohey accompanied Canberra-based Marist College on a traveling tour of the United States, visiting San Francisco, Portland and Seattle before driving across the state to play nine games against Washington high schools. One of the pit stops they made was Kittitas High School.

Toohey, 15 years old at the time, was unavailable to play due to a broken wrist, but he watched Gonzaga commit Brock Ravet connect on seven 3-pointers and score 27 points, leading Kittitas to a 79-38 win. Ravet’s time at Gonzaga ended abruptly, but his eruption against the Australian squad clearly left an impression on Toohey at a formative point of his career.

“Playing against him and he was really good for us, being young kids,” Toohey said. “So realizing how good a program they must be to get kids like that.”

The trip also took Marist to Spokane, where the high school-aged Australians got a walking tour of Gonzaga’s campus and basketball facilities. Consider it Toohey’s first unofficial visit to his future home.

Toohey recalls “just seeing the facilities and all the NBA players they had on the wall, around the court, then realizing how successful the program was.”

A smaller group of Marist coaches managed to procure tickets to Gonzaga’s 91-48 romp past Santa Clara, but held off on sharing that information with players until later.

“The coaches were able to, but we weren’t able to because it’s so hard to get tickets to the games with every game basically selling out,” Toohey said. “So the coaches struggled to get four. They went, but they didn’t tell any of us until a long time afterward.”

A 6-foot-7, 205-pound wing/forward who’s playing for the NBA Global Academy in Canberra, Toohey recently helped Australia’s national team qualify for the 2023 FIBA Basketball World Cup before committing to the Zags on Nov. 8. The four-star prospect is considered Australia’s top 2023 recruit and one of the top international targets in the class, regardless of country.

The big, skilled wing chose Gonzaga from a list that also included Villanova, Michigan and Davidson. Those were Toohey’s four offers, according to 247Sports.com, but the website also suggests the 18-year-old garnered interest from Duke, Florida, Illinois, Iowa State and Saint Mary’s, GU’s longtime rival in the West Coast Conference.

Gonzaga assistant Roger Powell made the long trek to Canberra to visit with GU’s newest commit earlier this year and Toohey traveled to Spokane for the second time in late October for his official visit. He connected with Gonzaga freshman Braden Huff, spent considerable time talking with sophomore point guard Nolan Hickman and dined with the Bulldogs’ staff at Few’s home.

Toohey said he enjoyed “seeing the coaches in a different light, not just on the basketball court, and realizing it really is one big family. Everyone loves basketball, but everyone just gets along off the court as well. So it’s a real good culture there.”

Any Drew Timme interactions of note?

“I did have a few moments. I mostly heard a lot of stories from the coaches about him,” Toohey said. “He seems like a character and a really good bloke.”

Australia’s senior national team called up the versatile teenage prospect for FIBA World Cup-qualifying games, held last month in Kazakhstan. Toohey played fewer than 20 total minutes in three games, but he still scored 12 points on 4-of-6 shooting in his first action with the senior Boomers.

During the NBA Academy Games, held July in Atlanta, Toohey averaged 15.6 points on 53% shooting and 38% shooting from the 3-point line. He also averaged 6.1 rebounds, 2.0 assists and 2.0 steals during the competition. Toohey excelled at the Australian U-20 championships in the spring, averaging 17 points, nine rebounds, six assists and four steals while manufacturing four double-doubles over seven games.

“I’d say I’m a pretty versatile wing, kind of do a bit of everything,” Toohey said. “Shoot, pass, rebound, like to push the ball up the court off a rebound. Defensively, being a bigger wing I guess, being able to switch and use my length guarding basically one through four. I think I fit with the Zags just in being able to rebound and being able to run, playing fast like they like to play. I think that’s something I really like.”

Toohey said GU’s history with international prospects – “not just internationals but internationals that are bigger guards like myself” – was a selling point when it came to selecting the Bulldogs. He’s set to be the first player born outside of North America to sign at Gonzaga since Mali’s Oumar Ballo, Russia’s Pavel Zakharov and Lithuania’s Martynas Arlauskas did so in 2019. That recruiting class also included Timme and Ravet.

“Mark Few’s obviously had a history of making those guys better,” Toohey said. “I think that’s something that really, really excites me. Then just the way they play, they like to play fast, which is something I’m a big fan of. Then they play pretty international. I think as an Australian that will be really good to fit into. Kind of an easy transition, I guess.”

Toohey will also become the first Australian-born player to sign at GU directly out of high school. Rillie came to the Zags from Tacoma CC and center Paul Rogers transferred from North Idaho College.

The WCC, meanwhile, has maintained an impressive pipeline to Austrailia. This season, there are eight Australian-born players at four WCC schools: Saint Mary’s, Portland, Loyola Marymount and San Francisco.

Toohey is close friends with Saint Mary’s center Harry Wessels and also knows Portland’s Bol Dengdit.

Saint Mary’s commit Rory Hawke teamed up with Toohey for the FIBA qualifers and he frequently trains with Hawke and Gaels signee Jensen Bradtke at Basketball Australia’s Centre of Excellence, which doubles as a hub for the Global Academy. Toohey joked it’s given him the opportunity to conduct “some scouting early on.”

“I think kind of the banter there in Australia with me and the Saint Mary’s commits in training has been pretty good, very fun,” Toohey said. “It’s a bit of chirp here and there, a few comments. But no, it’s awesome.”

Theo Lawson can be reached at (509) 939-5928 or theol@spokesman.com.