October 18, 2008 in Sports

For the Zags, let the madness begin

Gonzaga basketball team gets off to a healthy start
By The Spokesman-Review


Fresh faces: Cougars begin to show seven freshmen the way of Bennett Ball/C3

The Gonzaga Bulldogs hold their first official basketball practice today and already senior guard Jeremy Pargo senses something different.

“First time,” he said after the Zags went through 90 minutes of dancing, dunking and scrimmaging Friday during Midnight Madness festivities in front of a nearly packed house at the McCarthey Athletic Center. “First time since I’ve been here, to be honest.”

Pargo was referring to the fact that Gonzaga will open practice with nearly a healthy roster. The lone exception is sophomore Robert Sacre, who watched Friday on crutches after having foot surgery.

The biggest question marks – senior center Josh Heytvelt and sophomore forward Austin Daye – have been cleared to practice, though both are behind in terms of conditioning. Daye even logged a few minutes in GU’s 15-minute scrimmage that capped the evening, portions of which were televised on ESPNU.

Daye’s jump shot was a little rusty, but that’s the least of Gonzaga’s worries. Daye is just thankful that he’s ready for practice after a major knee scare in early July that initially was thought to be season ending.

“Practice starts (today) and I’m happy,” he said. “I get to practice full and I’ve been looking forward to that since the doctor told me I was going to be able to play this year.”

Daye said an MRI taken four days ago revealed that “my ACL is 100 percent and the bone bruise is resolved. I just need to keep strengthening my leg so it’s not shaky.”

Heytvelt played most of the scrimmage and hit a nice fadeaway 10-footer over 7-foot-5 Will Foster and added a follow jam a few minutes later. He missed the early part of last season after having surgery on his foot/ankle. Shortly after he returned to the court, so did the pain. He said he essentially played on a broken foot the rest of the year.

Heytvelt had off-season surgery and spent more than five months in a cast or walking boot.

“It’s been a long process to get healthy,” said Heytvelt, noticeably bigger at nearly 260 pounds. “There’s been no pain throughout the whole thing and I hope to keep it that way throughout the year. It’s not 100 percent healed, but it’s not where it can break again. It’s 95 percent. It’s good to go.”

So are the Bulldogs, who enjoyed the evening in front of a large audience. Pargo won the dunk contest with a combination move, starting with a round-off back flip before taking a feed from Matt Bouldin for a two-handed jam. Andrew Sorenson and a Kennel Clubber he picked from the crowd won the shooting contest over Daye and his partner, ESPN broadcaster Stephen Bardo.

The White team won the scrimmage 39-27 with Heytvelt and Gray, who hit four 3-pointers, doing most of the scoring and true freshman Demetri Goodson efficiently running the point.

“A couple years ago we opened up and played a scrimmage and tried to be the Harlem Globetrotters, which we aren’t, and we ended up looking silly,” head coach Mark Few said. “I did remind them of that and I thought they did a nice job of staying within the framework of their games, which isn’t easy in that environment.”

The environment was impressive. Ninety minutes before the start, a long line of fans snaked from the south entrance to the soccer field. Another long line, mostly of students, waited at the north entrance.

“That was a blast, man,” said senior wing Micah Downs, a veteran of several Midnight Madness celebrations. “I had Midnight Madness at Kansas and we had the one last year, but this one was phenomenal.”

Today, the Bulldogs get down to business.

“I expect everybody to come out and go hard, everybody brings what they can to help this team,” Pargo said. “Get in here, work and get better.”

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