Gonzaga stars to appear at NIL autograph session with Friends of Spike

While NIL deals in college football have dominated the headlines, star basketball players are also doing deals. That’s especially true in communities like Spokane, Wash., where fans are crazy about the Gonzaga basketball program.

That’s why it’s no surprise to see the Friends of Spike collective announce a NIL deal for an autograph session with 13 Bulldog basketball players.

Friends of Spike said the autograph session benefitting the Community Cancer Fund – which donates funds to help cancer patients and their families – will take place at 10 a.m. PST Saturday on the driving range at the Coeur d’Alene Resort Golf Course.

The NIL autograph session features 13 Bulldog basketball players, including star Drew Timme. Timme returns for his senior season after being named a John R. Wooden Award Player of the Year Finalist, Wooden All-American and second-team All-American pick by Sporting News, the Associated Press, NABC and USBWA this past season.

The Zags’ star center has one of the strongest On3 NIL Valuations in college basketball valued at $80,000. He also ranks No. 23 on the On3 College Basketball NIL Ranking. That number could continue to climb with him back for his senior season and now that he’s working with the Friends of Spike Collective.

Julian Strawther and Rasir Bolton are two other big-name Gonzaga stars participating in the autograph session. Strawther is returning for his junior season after averaging 11.8 points a game and reaching double-digits 21 times. Bolton started all 21 games for the Zags last season and led the West Coast Conference in 3-point shooting.

Other confirmed participants in the autograph session:

-Anton Watson
-Hunter Sallis
-Braden Huff
-Nolan Hickman
-Dominick Harris
-Ben Gregg
-Joe Few

Friends of Spike doing big NIL things for Gonzaga hoops Matt Santangelo and Shaniqua Nilles, two former Gonzaga basketball players, launched the Friends of Spike collective in March 2022 to help Bulldogs student-athletes capitalize on their NIL.

Friends of Spike said it hopes to be the bedrock to providing a long-term NIL program for GU student-athletes.

“Supporters of the men and women who represent Gonzaga athletics as student-athletes now will be able to engage directly with athletes for corporate advertising campaigns, youth sports coaching sessions, brand representation, merchandising programs, speaking appearances and more,” the collective said.

Friends of Spike sponsors are Spokane-area businesses Gee Automotive, Washington Trust Bank, The Wolff Company and Dealers Auto Auction.

“As former student-athletes here in Spokane, we know firsthand how much of an impact we can have on the community and the world,” Santangelo and Nilles said in a news release.

The event was organized by Friends of Spike, an independent organization run by two former Gonzaga athletes – basketball standouts Matt Santangelo and Shaniqua Nilles – to support athletes in handling their name, image and likeness. The party also featured a pop-up from It’s 4AM Somewhere, a local clothing store with strong ties to GU basketball and started by Christian Jones, brother of team alum Jeremy Jones.

Santangelo described Friends of Spike as “that connecting fiber that allows greater access, greater creativity and more opportunity for these athletes to engage with this community,” and the draft watch party was an example. The public event was attended by nearly every member of the current Gonzaga men’s basketball roster.

No-Li hosted the event for free, inviting the public to sit alongside the Zags in their newly constructed Bier Hall.

“We love trying to uphold the greatness of Spokane with the community,” No-Li owner John Bryant said.

“It’s just a testament to the culture and coach (Mark) Few, just the love that the community has,” Christian Jones said of the event. “The culture is not like this anywhere else; this is truly a special place.”

Before the draft began, the Zags mingled among the community, introducing themselves to sometimes starstruck fans.

“We’re honored that they actually came over to our table and introduced themselves,” said Dan Browne, who came to No-Li with friend Bob Behrens to watch the draft, not expecting to meet many of the players.

“I always follow the Zags,” Behrens added, explaining that he enjoys watching as they extend their careers in the NBA. He was excited to see what would happen with Holmgren and Nembhard.

When at last the draft began, the Bier Hall went silent, and all eyes turned to the large screen to hear Orlando’s pick. When the name wasn’t Chet Holmgren, there was a disgruntled rumbling.

But the fans wouldn’t wait much longer as Holmgren was picked second by the Oklahoma city Thunder, the highest a Gonzaga player has been chosen. There was thunderous applause and smiles all around. Though hardly a surprise to any, it was nonetheless thrilling to see one of GU’s own attain such heights.