Louisiana Tech has a little more history than Gonzaga had prior to 1999. Mostly known for being the college team of Karl Malone, Louisiana Tech made it to the Sweet Sixteen in 1985 behind The Mailman. After bowing out to Oklahoma and Waymon Tisdale by two points, Malone left Tech and joined Stockton in Utah for an incredible ride through the NBA.
It's been seventeen years since the last NCAA appearance by Louisiana Tech, back when P.J. Brown was still lacing them up in Ruston. A few NIT appearances and three straight NCAA rebounding crowns by Paul Millsap have been the bright spots for the last two decades.
Gonzaga started their run with a veteran team and a veteran coach. Dan Monson was a long time assistant at Gonzaga and had led the team to 24 wins and a NIT bid in 1998. Their continued success has been due largely to continuity. Another longtime assistant, Mark Few, took over in 1999 and has stuck with the program.
Coach Few has been able to keep the success going by finding players where other programs have passed over. He has had his share of four star recruits, but a lot of their success has been due to three star guys like Adam Morrison, Jeremy Pargo, and J.P. Battista. Few also did it with transfers, including Dan Dickau, who transferred from Washington. He even looked overseas, coming up with Ronny Turiaf, a big part of their recent teams.
Louisiana Tech started by hiring Kerry Rupp, who was part of two very successful programs. He started under Rick Majerus at Utah and also worked under Mike Davis at Indiana and UAB. Rupp immediately started revamping his roster. With the help of assistants Nikita Johnson, Rennie Bailey, and Curtis Condie, Rupp brought in the talent to get his program going.
Transfers like Kenny Cooper from Oklahoma State, Magnum Rolle fro LSU, and Jamel White from Nebraska sat out last season and will be big factors in the Bulldogs turning things around. Coach Rupp is no stranger to recruiting overseas. He recruited Andrew Bogut to Utah from Australia and it didn't take long for him to bring foreign players to Ruston.
Nikita Johnson joined Tech's staff after working at LSU. Magnum Rolle, who also came from LSU, is a native of the Bahamas. Tech's recent commitment, Kadeem Coleby, is also from the Bahamas. Coleby plays his summer ball up in Canada for Grassroots Canada Elite. Coach Johnson has already brought in two players from Grassroots, Olu Ashaolu and Juevol Myles. Ashaolu, who sat out last season at Tech, was a four star recruit with offers from all over the country.
Rupp and Condie took another recruiting tool they learned out west and applied it to their new jobs. Utah and BYU have historically signed players after they spent two years on their church mission. The result is older players coming in adding strength and maturity to the team. Holton Hunsaker was the top point guard in Utah last year. Hunsaker will spend two years in Fiji before joining the Tech program in 2010. Shawn Oliverson spent a year at Cornell, before going on his two year church mission. After returning home in 2007, the 6'11" Oliverson joined the Bulldogs in 2008 and will be a sophomore this season.
Louisiana Tech has laid the groundwork for a successful run. Will it have the impact or the length of Gonzaga's decade of excellence? Tech fans sure hope so, and so does the president of the university. 3713 students applied to be in Gonzaga's freshmen class of 2003-2004, more than double from 1997-1998. Donations to the school increased from 8.4 million in 1996-1997 to 16.5 in 1999-2000.
Schools can not beat the exposure that comes from deep runs in the NCAA tournament. Gonzaga has enjoyed the benefits of their success for sure. Louisiana Tech has a lot in common with Gonzaga. Both schools compete win Western based conferences, both have Bulldog mascots, and both have alumni who had Hall of Fame careers for the Utah Jazz. Hopefully, Tech can take a page out of Gonzaga's playbook and add one more thing to the list. Postseason success is the next item on the agenda for Kerry Rupp and his Bulldogs from Louisiana Tech.