The 1980-81 season was a turning point in Gonzaga basketball. After a perfunctory trouncing of Carroll College in Kennedy Pavilion, the Zags went on the road to face powerhouse DePaul in Springfied, Illinois. DePaul was ranked #2 in the country and featured future NBA stars Mark Aquirre and Terry Cummings. The Blue Demons had beaten defending NCAA champion Louisville by 6 points the week before in the 1980 Tip-Off Classic.
"It was the year Gonzaga made the transition from just being a regional team and it began with that game," recalls Ed Taylor, a member of the Zag starting backcourt. "DePaul was a powerhouse, with Cummings, Aquirre and Teddy Grubb. We played pretty well and came back against one of the best teams in the country. Even though we lost the game, we knew we were going to be pretty good because we hadn't played our best." Gone were the days of Montana and Idaho being the biggest names on the GU schedule. Gonzaga had a whiff of the big time, and it smelled pretty good.
Ed Taylor was a big part of the Zag transition in the 1980-81 season. A senior two-guard from Lompoc, California, Taylor had been recruited to Gonzaga by Adrian Buoncristiani when the Bulldogs were members of the Big Sky Conference. Eddie had also been recruited by Loyola and Pacific. "I knew GU was a Jesuit school, my uncle—who is a priest—encouraged me to consider GU. I'm thankful I did."
Dan Fitzgerald had moved Gonzaga to the West Coast Conference two seasons earlier and the change from the Big Sky to the WCC was palpable to Taylor. "Our big games had been Montana and Idaho in my first two years, now we were playing in California and facing guys like Kurt Rambis (Santa Clara), Londale Theus (Santa Clara) and Quentin Dailey (USF)."
Even though the Zags had become ensconced in the WCC by the 1980-81 season, the regional rivalries weren't entirely forgotten. After DePaul, GU played an early season tournament in Missoula. The opening game was against Murray State, a team that had made it to the third round of the NIT the previous spring and had a highly-touted backcourt. The Zags dispatched the Racers by 20 points and moved on to meet Montana—coached by Mike Montgomery—in the championship game at Dahlberg Arena. Down by about a dozen points with 10 minutes to play in the second half, the Zags mounted a fierce rally and beat the Grizzlies by two. In addition to the championship trophy, Taylor recalls that all the GU players were given big blue cowboy hats and silver belt buckles. "We felt like we had been voted rodeo queen." Only in Missoula.
The Zags and Eddie Taylor would go on to defeat a top ten ranked USF by 12 points in WCC play on the way to a 19-8 season. Given serious consideration for an NIT bid (tickets for a game at the Spokane Coliseum were printed), the Zags were left sitting at home after a disappointing last game loss to Portland put a little tarnish on GU's record. The WCC was one of the few conferences that didn't have a conference tournament at the time.
Though they didn't make post-season, Eddie Taylor recognized there was something special about the 1980-81 team. "I realize now that collection of guys was changing the face of GU basketball," remarks Taylor. "We had guys who could play and who also represented the team very well."
As Zag basketball was in the fledgling stage of its transition, transition was also coming to Eddie Taylor. After receiving his Bachelor's degree, Eddie continued his educational pursuits at GU and obtained his Masters in psychology. Eddie then took a job as a social worker and later worked in the education department at the University of San Diego. Eventually, Eddie entered a doctoral program at the University of Washington, inspired by former teammate Ken Anderson who had obtained his Ph.D. from the University of Nebraska.
Dr. Eddie Taylor has completed six years on the faculty at UW, receiving tenure last year. This semester, Dr. Taylor will be teaching a class entitled "Education as a Moral Endeavor." "Those mandatory philosophy classes at GU are still coming in handy," he laughs.
Eddie Taylor is thrilled at Gonzaga's recent success. "It's exciting to see and get back in touch with the Zag legacy. The guys who played before me laid a foundation and the guys who played in the years since have carried it on. There is a mandate for Gonzaga basketball players and it goes beyond the court. These guys (current Zag players) will go on to make a difference in their communities."
Comparing the game now to twenty years ago, Eddie notices some similarities: "There are some things that Fitz instilled that are the same: the Zags play fundamentally sound basketball, make good passes and set great screens." But there are some big differences. "We didn't have a shot clock then," says Taylor. "Dean Smith would run the four corners in the second half with a team that had Worthy, Perkins and Jordan. Our game plan at GU was to stay close, get a lead late in the game, then play careful down the stretch. GU now runs up and down the court; not many teams did that in my days."
That running up and down the court stuff is called transition. Transition. It is a word that has been good to Gonzaga basketball and good to Eddie Taylor.
Dr. Ed Taylor is a published author and he truly epitomizes all that is good, all that is known as Gonzaga University.