Respect The “Dogs”
As a University of Portland graduate and as someone that has been associated with the basketball program in various capacities past and present over the years, I will never truly love Gonzaga University because of my own allegiances to a conference and geographical rival.
Given the ties, I respect the program immensely and hope that the Portland Pilots will one day enjoy the success that the Bulldogs have had.
These are the five top reasons that I tip my hat to the coaches, fans, and players of Gonzaga.
None of them have anything to do with John Stockton.
1). NCAA Tournament
The Gonzaga Bulldogs are perennial big dance participants through their decade-dominance of the West Coast Conference.
Over the years, the Gonzaga Bulldogs have benefited from the ability to consistently reload with diamond-in-the-rough talent, a slew of BCS-conference teams that want a shot at them, and the propensity to somehow avoid getting plagued by injuries.
As a result, fans are all but guaranteed a birth in the March madness festivities.
While the school has yet to reach a Final Four, at least they consistently have the chance to do so.
If anyone needs evidence, all they have to do is take a look back at past versions of “One Shining Moment.”
The montage has featured a plethora of Gonzaga guards including Matt Santangelo, Quentin Hall, Richie Frahm, Dan Dickau, Blake Stepp, Derek Raivio, and Jeremy Pargo.
The tournament magic show has become an entitlement in Spokane.
2). The Cinderella Factor
Each March Cinderella exchanges a white dress for a blue jersey with red trim. Despite the fact that these guys consistently finish in the AP Top 25 by year’s end, Gonzaga is and will forever remain the Y-Generation’s Cinderella.
Throughout the 1990’s and 2000’s, the school’s undergraduate enrollment hovered around 2,500 to 3,500 and yet consistently the program battled with the North Carolina’s and Kentucky’s of the basketball world, much like they have done in this decade.
As the years have passed, other programs have since laid claim to their Cinderella title (George Mason in 2006 and more recently Butler and Virginia Commonwealth), but few carry the mantle of the underdog in the hearts of college basketball fans the way that Gonzaga does.
3). Finding Under the Radar Players
Gonzaga’s program does not reside in the top 10 of the AP and Coaches polls and therefore will not be in the consciousness of most five-star recruits. That said, head coach Mark Few and his staff must continue to find players that will have the ability to play on the same court as the elite programs.
In some ways, for the average fan the players often are seen as relatable, because of a lack of stardom which reflects the Spokane community.
Whether it is through transfers (Dan Dickau via Washington), flying beyond the border (Ronny Turiaf, Robert Sacre, Elias Harris, and Kevin Pangos) or finding guys that lack the notoriety of their northwest counterparts (Bakari Hendrix, Casey Calvary, Stepp and Raivio), the coaching staff always found pieces that manage to trickle into Spokane.
4). McCarthey Athletic Center
Without a doubt, the McCarthey Center is the best place to watch a college basketball game in the entire region.
Nicknamed “The Kennel” for obvious reasons, the 6,000-seat arena is at capacity every single night, regardless if the team is playing Seattle University or Saint Mary’s College. There are very few arenas whose atmosphere matches the intensity or ferocity than the building in Spokane.
It is a place where opposing winning streaks come to perish.
5). The Bulldogs are Simply Better than their Pac-12 Counterparts
Gonzaga’s Mark Few is the longest tenured coach (13 seasons) and has the winning percentage (.795) of any Division I coach on the Pacific Coast.
In the past decade, his squads have defeated regional programs such as Washington State, Washington and Oregon. In the last five seasons, the team has also knocked powerhouses such as Florida State, Tennessee, and Baylor.
While Washington has enjoyed success under Lorenzo Romar, they were struggling before his arrival in 2002. Washington State had a run of wins with Tony Bennett, and Oregon had bundles of success, including an Elite Eight with former coach Ernie Kent, but Gonzaga has been on their roll throughout the rise and falls of their regional counterparts.
Traditionally, the argument is made about the lack of conference talent in the West Coast Conference from top-to-bottom compared to the Pac-12.
In the last three seasons, this has been muted with the pitiful play of the Pac-12, the admittance of BYU in the WCC, and now the emergence of Saint Mary’s coupled with the overall improvement of talent and coaching in the mid-major conference.
Gonzaga is and has always been for real.
Now their conference is illustrating this point.
Spokane’s one and only show will resume six months from now when Midnight Madness kicks off in October.
While the program has never made it to the national title game, much less the Final Four, it is one with national prominence and their fans are as passionate and knowledgeable as any in the country.
As a view from an eternal Pilot, I can do nothing but simply respect that.