Recently I had the opportunity to listen in on GU's coach Mark Few speak about Gonzaga Basketball and how to take it to the next level. What a better person to speak about having a successful team than the man who has been there since the beginning of what is quickly becoming the Gonzaga legacy.
In his first year at Gonzaga, the Bulldogs won four D-1 games and finished with an 8-20 overall record. Staying out of last place was considered a good season. But he and Dan Monson, both assistants under former head coach Dan Fitzgerald at the time, knew that something had to change. They decided to look at the glass half full versus half empty.
Some people argued that since Gonzaga was in Spokane it was an impossible job to compete with schools in L.A, San Francisco, or even Portland. Few knew differently, and we all know now that that is opposite of the truth. Spokane has that small community feel that others don't, and it's reinforced when March Madness comes around throwing the town of Spokane into Zag Mania. Zag signs hang from restaurants, businesses, and homes all around town showing support of our team.
As the Zags began to flourish, Coach Few and his staff tried each year to get better players without sacrificing the formula that had worked all along. On the topic of his players, he is most proud of two things. Firstly, the way they handle themselves with the media, press conferences during the NCAA tournament most of all. More importantly, he is proud to say that almost all his players go on to graduate and go out into the real world where they are successful.
As far as taking Gonzaga basketball to a higher level, Coach Few says that it can be done, but not in what most people look for such as Sweet 16, Elite 8, and Final Four appearances. Those are what they want to be apart of, but they are not the goals set forth at the beginning of the season. Few most wants his players to reach their highest potential as individuals and as a team. The winning will take care of itself. The stats speak for themselves. Only Duke, Michigan State and Gonzaga have made it to the Sweet 16 or beyond for the last three years.
Coach Few's goal for Gonzaga is to get the kind of support that the teams they are competitive with get. Although he knows that may not be completely realistic at GU, he believes the next step is the new arena plan. The arena would be attractive to recruits, draw more competitive schools to come play here in Spokane, make more money to feed back to not only the athletics program, but the university itself, and most appealing to most of us will be the ability to get into more games. Before building of the new facility begins, 80% of the funding must be there. Gonzaga seats 4,000 people in The Kennel. The new facility would aim to seat between 6,500 and 7,500 people. Duke is a small school and they seat 8,000. The arena seats 13,000 and when the Zags played there last season they drew 6,000, so Few believes the new playing facility will be the perfect size. He assures everyone that he will be in on the planning process. He will want it to be very similar in areas such as the decibel noise, where the students sit, and most importantly, keeping the ability to intimidate officials and make sure they're still within earshot. It's called the home court advantage. The tentative plan is to break ground for it this coming spring.
Recruiting is also a big part of building a program. After their first appearance in the NCAA tournament, many people thought their run was a flash in the pan, a one-time thing. Next season rolls around, after another magnificent run, people speculated that they just had a great senior class, but now they had graduated so it was over. But finally, after three seasons, signs show that the program is arriving and they are able to talk to bigger recruits. Foreign players have been a very good asset to the team. They have the tendency to not look at league affiliations, but where they can play at the highest level. Few believes the internet along with the history of recruiting foreign players and having connections overseas makes this possible.
This year will be an exciting year for the Zags. In Few's words, they have a young, talented team, and now all need to come together chemistry wise. This year will be a tough one in the WCC. Santa Clara and San Francisco return many players which will mean more tough games for the Zags. What may be the hardest part of their season though is their TV package. The package includes a possible seven games on ESPN broadcast nationally which goes to show that the Zags are taking it to a higher level. While this has many benefits, the risk of injury increases. But if things continue to go the way they have in the past, this could shape up to be the best year ever.
Gonzaga to the next level by Mark Few
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