By Ray Hamill — They will go down as one of the greatest foursomes in local basketball history after their historic seasons at both Fortuna High School and College of the Redwoods, and now all four are getting set for the next chapter in their lives.
Earlier this week, Drew Gillette and Zac Claus announced they have committed to play at the University of Puget Sound next year, while their longtime teammates Bradley and Donald Willis have decided to end their collegiate careers and are, in the words of head coach Ryan Bisio, moving on with their lives.
Together, these four teammates captivated local fans over the past several years, winning a remarkable 30 games as seniors at Fortuna and following that by leading the Corsairs to back-to-back Golden Valley Conference championships.
For Gillette and Claus, the decision to play at Puget Sound was an easy one, although the process was challenging in the wake of COVID and the new transfer portal rules adopted by the NCAA in 2021.
“This was as competitive and grueling a recruiting cycle as any I’ve experienced,” CR head coach Ryan Bisio said. “But to Drew and Zac’s credit, they were never disheartened.”
After visiting the Puget Sound campus in Tacoma, Wash, both players were quickly sold on the Division-III program.
“I know it sounds cliched, but it just seemed like the perfect fit, school wise and playing wise,” Gillette said. “We went up there and visited and it’s just a super nice area.”
Both players also immediately liked Puget Sound head coach Aubrey Shelton’s vision for building the program going forward.
“We started talking and he seemed like a great guy, and it seemed like our basketball ideals match,” Claus said. “It kind of felt like a great fit.”
Both players are also expected to compete for a starting spot and plenty of playing time right away.
“Of course, you never know who’s going to start, but coach has told me and Drew that he expects us to have an immediate impact,” Claus said.
Claus admits it will be different not playing alongside the Willis twins, with whom he enjoyed tremendous success and chemistry over the years.
And not just on the court.
“I’ve been in class with them since kindergarten and friends ever since,” he said. “It’s going to be the first time in a decade and a half not playing some sport with them, so it’s going to be new.”
Gillette also will miss playing alongside his longtime teammates and all the good times they have enjoyed on and off the court while playing together.
“I’ll remember that first season straight out of high school when the team was 0-26 and we were able to get it to 21-6. That was pretty crazy,” he said. “It was fun being able to play with my teammates and friends from Fortuna. Just really a fun group to play with.”
For Claus, the most memorable moments with his teammates came off the court.
“I feel what I’ll remember the most is the off-the-court stuff,” he said. “The road trips and all that stuff.
“On the court we had more than enough to talk about. And all of us committing to CR together, I won’t forget that, and winning the league in back-to-back years and going through COVID.
“But the thing I’ll remember the most is really my friends and the off-the-court stuff.”
The duo will travel north within the next couple of weeks to play some summer league ball with their new teammates, before beginning full practice with them later in the summer.
And for CR and Bisio, it’s another success story.
“What a career they had and what people they are,” the CR head coach said. “It’s incalculable just what they meant to the program. These guys are all-time legends.
“This is a big day for our department. That is the system working the way it’s intended to.”
Both Gillette and Claus also paid tribute to Bisio and CR Associate Head Coach Justin Claus, who is Zac’s older brother and has been coaching the four players for several years at the AAU, high school and collegiate levels, as well as their families for all their support over the years.