Mike Winger: Making Wingdingers in Life

Back when LMU's Hank Gathers and Bo Kimble were tearing up the WCC, Gonzaga's scoring aces Jim McPhee and Doug Spradley were racking up big numbers themselves, but not without the help of one of the Zags' most steady and consistent (and unsung) point guards. Meet Mike Winger.

ZH: Tell us about the first time as a freshman that you really saw what Dan Fitzgerald was about.

MW: I got a first glimpse of what Fitz was all about when we started weight training at 6:00am and had our first practice of the day directly after weights.

Once you completed class, we had a two and a half to three hour practice in the afternoon. Following dinner, freshmen had a mandatory hour and half study session. This was our schedule prior to a few weeks before our first game. We all knew that Fitz demanded that we come prepared to work hard.

Another good indicator of what Fitz was about was our annual ten mile run that we all had to complete in under eighty minutes. This ten mile run was in the Fall and was a way of ensuring that we all reported back to campus in shape.

ZH: Fitz had many sides to his personality. What qualities do you remember the most?

MW: The qualities I remember most about Fitz were his competitiveness and work ethic. Fitz would work long hours and expect his staff to do the same so that we would be the best conditioned and best prepared team as possible. He always looked for a way to provide us a competitive advantage. I think a good example of him trying to create a competive advantage was the way he worked the officials during a game. Most people who ever watched a Gonzaga game while Fitz was the coach usually had the opportunity to see him stomp his foot, throw his towel, rip off his dress coat, or stare down an official.

ZH: Every Zag who ever played for Gonzaga during the Fitz years has a favorite story or two about him. Tell us a couple printable ones from your years there.

MW: [laughs] One story I remember about Fitz illustrated how he loved to put freshman in their proper place. My freshman year we were flying into the Bay Area for a game and the plane was completely full. We were about to land when the plane swayed from one side to the other. When we touched down, it felt like we landed on one wheel and bounced down the runway. Everyone went quiet and wondered what had happened. Fitz promptly stood up and looked at me and said for everyone to hear, "He must be a freshman pilot."

ZH: You had some colorful teammates and some talented guys to dish to with you playing point guard, including scorers Jim McPhee and Doug Spradley. What game or two really stands out in your career? Any particular plays?

MW: I remember one game in particular against Loyola Marymount. It was my junior year and we were playing Loyola at their place. LMU had a great team (including Hank Gathers and Bo Kimble) and were scoring a tremendous amount of points every game. Our backcourt included Spradley and I and Jim McPhee was our wing. We were involved in a real up and down game scoring a lot of points. I don't recall the final score but we ended up losing. The amazing part of the story for me was that between Spradley, McPhee and I, we had scored over 100 points and still ended up losing the game. I think both Spradley and McPhee had over forty points a piece and I finished with over twenty.

ZH: For those who don't know, explain what type of point guard you were, and what on earth was a "Wingdinger?"

MW: It is always difficult to describe yourself but I would say I was a point guard that in Fitz's flex offense, my primary job was to limit turnovers and distribute the ball to our scorers Spradley and McPhee. When the opportunity presented itself for scoring I was able to shoot from beyond the three point line. [laughs] The "Wingdinger" phrase came from when I would make a three point shot the reader board above our scoreboard would flash "Wingding" or "Wingdinger."

ZH: You said John Stockton was the toughest guy you ever went head to head with. Explain why, and what made him better in your opinion than others you played against like Gary Payton?

MW: Stockton was definitely the best or toughest guy I played against. John would come back to Spokane in the summer and early fall and workout with us. I believe he improved my game greatly just by being matched up against him every summer for four years. The thing that impressed me most about Stockton was the fact that in the summer (his off season) he never missed a day of conditioning. He would also never let up or be give less than 110% in our summer scrimmages.

We played against some great guards in the four years I was at Gonzaga but the most complete player I faced was Stockton.

ZH: The three toughest, or best, point guards you played against... Who were they and how'd you do against them?

MW: The three best guards I competed against would probably be: Gary Payton; we played Oregon State three of my four years at Gonzaga. We lost all three games. Our best appearance against them was my sophomore year when we were ahead by ten at halftime but Payton, Eric Knox, and Jose Ortis took over in the second half to beat us. Another great guard was Greg Anthony who played only one year in our league (with Portland) before transferring to UNLV. I played briefly against him my freshman year and he ended up being Freshman of the Year in our league. Two other solid guards were Corey Gaines and Chris Childs. Gaines played with LMU (he had transferred from UCLA) and Childs played with Boise State.

ZH: I know Father Tony meant a great deal to you. Can you share some thoughts on how he influenced you, perhaps an anecdote or two?

MW: Father Tony has had a great impact on my life. He married my wife and I, and Baptized our two children. He was a true friend and will always be associated with Gonzaga and the basketball program.

I remember one of Padre's favorite places to go and be with GU students was the "Fish" located near Wolf Lodge Bay in Coeur d' Alene, Idaho. This restaurant/bar was shaped like a fish and was known for cheap beer and fried chicken, a perfect place for college kids to hang out. Father Tony loved to be with the GU students and create friendships. It didn't matter if that meant sitting on the bench with the basketball team or going to the Fish.

ZH: What has Gonzaga University and your experience here meant to you and how has it helped shape your life thus far? In other words, what did you take away from GU with you?

MW: Gonzaga has had a profound influence on my life as well as my family's. The four years I spent with the basketball team and earning my degree allowed me to create many friendships that will last a lifetime. While at graduate school finishing the MBA program, I met my wife Ann. We have been married for over nine years and have two children. Gonzaga has instilled a set of core values that are a part of us forever and help guide the way we live our lives. My brother Jim also attended GU and played baseball for Coach Hertz. He met his wife Teri at Gonzaga. They have two children and live in Coeur d' Alene.

ZH: Now you work for URM here in Spokane. Describe your job, your responsibilities, and tell us what all URM does besides deliver food to stores.

MW: URM is a wholesale grocery distributor in Spokane. We supply groceries to Rosauers, Yoke's, Super 1 Foods and approximately 100 independent grocers in four states. I work in the store development department at URM. As Store Development Coordinator, I locate sites for new grocery stores, arrange the financing for new construction or remodels of stores, negotiate leases with landlords who own grocery stores, and assist with coordinating change of ownerships within our store network. I also am the real estate broker for a subsidiary of our company called Premier Brokerage. URM has been an excellent company. I have been with them nearly ten years.

ZH: You're married now, have two young children... Tell us about the Winger family and the activities you and your family enjoy doing.

MW: My wife Ann and I have two children. Susanna will be six in October and our son Michael will be four in September. Susanna is starting Kindergarten and Michael is entering Preschool. We enjoy outdoor activities, including swimming, fishing, boating and all sports.

Our family is fortunate in that both set of grandparents live fairly close by; Ann's parents live in Helena, MT., and my folks live in Coeur d' Alene, Idaho. The grandparents get to spend quite a bit of time with Sue and Mike.

ZH: Finally, through the eyes of a former Zag point guard, compare Mark Few's Bulldogs with Fitz's Bulldogs, and also some of the point guards who have followed you--Goss, Hall, Santangelo, Dickau and now Blake Stepp.

MW: I think that the current Bulldogs, with both Monson and Few's leadership, have obviously elevated the program to a higher level. But a lot of what I see the Bulldogs doing today is very similar to what Fitz coached during his era (fundamentally sound, smart, skilled shooters, and play harder than the other team). The difference in my mind is that Coach Few has opened up the offense and has the caliber of athletes to compete with nearly any program in the country. The way the program has built on its success, one step at a time, has been a joy to watch. I have also enjoyed watching the fantastic string of point guards like the ones you mentioned in Goss, Hall, Santangelo, Dickau, and Stepp. No doubt there will be others to come. Looking forward to watching this year's team and another run to the NCAA's.

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