Rasir Bolton was the first of the Zags testing the NBA draft waters to announce his return to the Bulldogs, with his announcement followed closely by Julian Strawther and Drew Timme. That series of announcements, starting with Bolton, completely changed the complexion of Gonzaga’s offseason and solidified the team’s 2022-23 championship aspirations.
Bolton’s decision to transfer to Gonzaga last season was a boon for both the basketball program, and more importantly, the larger Spokane community. The 6’3” guard seamlessly transitioned into the squad and started all 32 games alongside Andrew Nembhard in the backcourt. After enduring losing campaigns on flawed teams at Penn State and Iowa State, Bolton looked invigorated playing for Gonzaga as he won as many games in his first season with the Zags (28) as he did in his previous three seasons combined.
Suddenly playing with the freedom afforded by Mark Few’s offense and alongside the most talented teammates he’s had in his career, Bolton posted career-best shooting numbers both inside (55.7%) and outside the arc (46%) while attempting the second-most 3s on the roster behind only Strawther. Bolton produced his lowest average scoring output of his collegiate career, but the quality and efficient nature of his production stands out and he would be the first to tell you that it was his best season yet.
The shooting, speed, and understanding of when to defer made him a perfect fit last year, and Bolton’s return for a fifth collegiate season (thanks to the eligibility waiver given to athletes because of the abbreviated 2020-21 COVID season) and second with Gonzaga provides a vital veteran presence (115 games played with 91 starts) to a talented backcourt that is not without its question marks.
With Nembhard moving on to the Indiana Pacers, Bolton will team up with Dominick Harris who suffered a lost second season due to a foot injury that required surgery, the sophomore pair of Noel Hickman and Hunter Sallis who showed flashes of their immense talent throughout the year but were not leaned on in major roles, and transferred Malachi Smith. While Smith is the only new face and the guards as a whole are a mature and focused group, the roles and group dynamic will be different and the offense will be missing the steady hand of Nembhard who proved to be one of the very best pure point guards in the country. Bolton alone will not make up for that loss, but he can certainly help Hickman develop in that role while figuring out how to best play alongside Gonzaga’s host of combo guards.
When Gonzaga decided to pursue Bolton as a transfer, the staff conducted a diligent review of his make-up to ensure that he would fit into the program’s ethos. The coaching staff was sold on Bolton, but as it turns out, he was even better than advertised.
As good as Bolton’s addition to Gonzaga was on the court last season, his presence off the court may have been far more impactful. Bolton dove head first into engaging with his community, regularly using his spare time to prepare and distribute food and backpacks to the homeless population in Spokane, while building meaningful connections with many people who may otherwise never encounter a Gonzaga basketball player.
In just one year, Bolton proved to be an immensely positive addition to Gonzaga and Spokane. His still may be even better.