Bryce McPhee: GU Difference Maker

Little did Gonzaga fans know that when Dan Fitzgerald brought John Stockton to GU in the early eighties, another star student-athlete named Bryce McPhee would be just as big during his time in Spokane. Bryce was at a couple games this year and we talked with him.

7'1" Nick Vanos of Santa Clara fouled Bryce McPhee as Bryce drove to the basket for two. As Bryce took his place at the free-throw line, Vanos looked at him and commented, "That was the sweetest move I've ever seen." It was a reverse layup. Bryce converted the 3-point play. Vanos went on to the NBA.

When younger brother (and future Zag) Jim McPhee was home in Tacoma listening to Dick Wright call the GU games, Jim recalls Dick declaring over the radio waves, "I think Bryce McPhee could score on God!"

But perhaps the greatest (and most telling) anecdote of all comes from fellow teammate John Stockton after John had gone through the Olympic Tryouts with the likes of Patrick Ewing, Charles Barkley, Michael Jordan and others. "USA Today" asked Stockton who the toughest player was he had played against. His reply: "Bryce McPhee, every day in practice."

Not bad.

Born and raised in Tacoma, Bryce attended Bellarmine Prep where he would lead his team to the State AAA Championship game. AAA was later changed to 4A. On the road to the championship game, Bellarmine blew out tournament opponents by 30 or more, save for one morning game when the team would have rather been sleeping. Garfield High School awaited for the battle for the state championship.

Bryce's team would lose a squeaker that year and finish 2nd. But a stellar career and a high profile finish to his senior year would surely bring lots of glittery offers from Division 1 schools.

Or would it?

At 6'5" (at the tallest), Bryce played center for Bellarmine and the program listed him as such. The countless schools that had been mailing him slowly backed away. The last thing they needed was an undersized kid who played center. A few schools were willing to let him walk on, but no scholarships were offered.

That changed when a potential GU recruit chose to go elsewhere and then-head coach Dan Fitzgerald called with scholarship in hand.

It would mysteriously be Bryce's only D1 offer, and it would be a classic "steal" by the Zags, something that has become somewhat of a tradition at GU.

Bryce recalls how he and Stockton would play the veteran teammates (Don Baldwin, Hugh Hobus, etc.) straight up in practice. Fitz would tell them to keep practicing hard because they won't play much in games. The former Zag coach was not big on playing frosh. All together, McPhee thinks he and Stockton might've played 100 minutes combined their first year.

McPhee's first year would be Fitzgerald's last and would see a 19-8 record, which was promptly ignored by both the NCAA Tournament and the NIT.

Jay Hillock took over the reins at Gonzaga and Bryce earned a starting spot as a soph. McPhee was a natural small forward and a scorer.

His style of play was to attack the basket, that's what he knew best and did best. He admits he was somewhat predictable and probably averaged three charges per game. But he could score.

After seasons that saw the Zags hover just above .500 and just below .500, Bryce would come to average about 19 points per game and 8 rebounds while Stockton averaged only slightly more points. It was a formidable one-two punch.

Formidable enough for Gonzaga to knock off then-powerhouse DePaul in DePaul's first game in their new basketball arena. Bryce vividly recalls the winning play. Stockton led a three on one break up the court. The final seconds were ticking down. Stockton dished to Dave Clement who was breaking down the right side. Clement was going so fast that his layup attempt hit the backboard, airballed over the rim to the other side... But Clement was going fast enough to be there to catch his own miss and put it back as time expired. Bryce was flying up the middle of the court and watched the shot go in at about the free-throw line. It was a huge upset victory in GU basketball history.

Another memorable win came over Marquette in Marquette's own tournament. This was just a few years after Marquette won the National Championship.

Bryce had a knack for being named MVP of tournaments, or at the least, named to the All-Tournament teams. It was just one of those things.

But what separated Bryce McPhee from others was his physical and mental toughness. During his senior year he had a stress fracture in his lower leg. The coaching staff played him selectively, in the toughest games, and the Zags were 7-0 in those tough games that Bryce played in. The season was looking great. Gonzaga was off to a hot start with about 12 wins and only 2 or 3 losses.

Then the stress fracture cracked all the way through and Bryce had to take a medical redshirt. Stockton tried to fill in the scoring void but the Zags would falter and finish barely above .500. That's how much McPhee meant to the team.

Bryce blew a knee his final year and that took a year to rehab back to 100%. He tried a few weeks of CBA ball but when the other knee blew out, he hung it up. An auto accident didn't help matters, either.

McPhee was a graduate assistant under Fitzgerald, who returned to head coaching duties after Hillock. It was an experience he enjoyed but it was clear that coaching at this level took more time from his family than he liked. He also coached at the high school level for a few years.

But it became time to put his Physical Therapy degree to use and now he owns his own Physical Therapy Clinic in the greater Seattle area.

Bryce has more Gonzaga memories than can possibly be printed. He recalls how classmate John Stockton got up in front of Professor Gilmore's philosophy class and imitated him while the professor (a Buddhist) stepped out. The class broke up with laughter.

He also laughs when he recalls how loudly Dave Clement snored and how he'd have to hit him with a stick to quiet down, not to mention the large mountain of dirty clothes that Clement would let pile up on the floor of their room for weeks at a time.

Most people may not know it but Bryce also played a couple years of baseball for Gonzaga.

He met his wife in college. She played hoops for Eastern Washington, and on one occasion McPhee was chosen to officiate an exhibition game between Eastern and Gonzaga women. Bryce remembers how pretty the entire Eastern team was and how he just ran up and down the court looking at them.

She would go overseas to Australia (Tazmania) and play pro basketball for a year. They dated for about five years and then married. Now the McPhees have five children, two of whom (Jake and Bryce James) were Gonzaga ballboys for two recent games during a visit to Spokane.

As for Mark Few's teams, Bryce has nothing but praise for their performances and is particularly struck by the how close-knit this group of Zags are. He wishes he and his teammates were given the offensive freedom that the current team enjoys. Sitting in on one practice, Bryce watched the freshman and redshirts run the opposing team's offense against the #1 team. The complete positive attitude from the coaches to the players impressed him. When the 1st team would make a big play the Zags watching would cheer and the scout team would high-five the 1st team. It was all about "team." And no negativity.

One former Gonzaga student-athlete sums up Bryce McPhee this way: "If he hadn't been hurt, it would be Ahmad Rashad talking about him on 'NBA Today', not us."

Not bad for a guy who had one D1 scholarship offer. Lucky for us, it was Gonzaga.

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