“After seven years as a professional, you realize it’s never like that again.”
– Matt Santangelo
Playing basketball at Gonzaga, he meant – and he said it through tears.
Among the many revelations to be found in the new commemorative DVD “Celebrating the Decade of Excellence” is that while Adam Morrison may have done the most notorious crying in Gonzaga basketball history, he was by no means a solo act.
Or how is it that Morrison put it?
“You go into any locker room at an NCAA Tournament and that’s happening,” he said. “I just couldn’t make it to the locker room.”
Now this retrospective DVD takes the Bulldogs back, and it’s instructive to see the emotions their memories dredge up. It’s not just all the West Coast Conference championships, or the bitterness of losing their last games which, yes, every Zags team has done during this galvanizing rise to national prominence. Nor is it comprehending the profound and radical change they’ve imposed on both campus and city life, and on the college basketball landscape.
It’s simply the brotherhood – attachments formed through travel and communal living, through practice drudgery and exhilarating triumph, in overcoming both as longshot underdogs and prohibitive favorites. The family endures, but the feeling cannot be duplicated after the final game’s final buzzer, though the video does what it can to recapture the essence.
The DVD is a cooperative venture of KHQ-TV and IMG College, Gonzaga’s multi-media rights holder, and goes on sale at the McCarthey Athletic Center ticket office this morning. Mathematicians might wonder why it’s titled “Decade of Excellence” when the Zags have reached the NCAAs 11 years running now, but one member of the basketball staff cleared that up.
“Because it takes a decade to watch it,” he joked.
A good-fun exaggeration. Yes, at 100 minutes, this highlight-video-cum- history requires an investment of time, but so does a buffet – and sometimes you’re just looking for big portions. Even at that length, the Zagophile can come away wanting more of everything – highlights, interviews, insights.
Greg Heister, the Zags’ local TV voice, wrote and produced the project, and pitched questions to more than 40 different personalities. If he didn’t get quite as many to tear-up as Oprah or Roy Firestone, his strength as an interviewer in drawing out anecdotes and recollections carried the day here and leavened the occasional overwrought narration inevitable in this sort of chronicle. Some examples:
Jeff Brown, center of the early 1990s revival: “When I played here, I could wear my Gonzaga sweatshirt across the street and maybe not get recognized. Then I remember moving back to Spokane, going for a morning run and people honking at me (wondering), ‘Is that Casey Calvary or not?’ ”
Calvary, on mass-mispronunciation of Gonzaga: “East Coast guys just talk funny. Anything they say doesn’t sound right to me.”
Zags assistant coach Leon Rice, on the season that followed GU’s Elite Eight appearance: “If we didn’t get back to the NCAA Tournament, we were maybe going to be a flash. It was going to be a blip on the radar, and Gonzaga’s back to the rest of the WCC.”
Ryan Floyd, noting the changing dynamic from that Elite Eight year to now: “We didn’t have NBA scouts at our games. We didn’t have agents trying to get in touch with anybody. (The game) is what we lived for.”
There are some nice surprises, too. David Pendergraft crediting Derek Raivio with holding the Zags together through the turmoil at the end of the 2007 season rectifies a sadly overlooked contribution. And it was eye-opening to hear coach Mark Few boldly declare – well, almost – Blake Stepp to be Gonzaga’s all-time best player when he is often left out of the conversation because he was quiet, unexpressive and not a high-flying dunker or floppy-haired idol.
Another precious insight: Hall of Fame point guard John Stockton emphasizing that “if you don’t have good point play, you can’t compete,” by way of celebrating the Zags’ recent lineage at that position from Santangelo to Dan Dickau to Stepp to Raivio and Jeremy Pargo, WCC players of the year all – except, amazingly, Santangelo (and could Kenyon Jones and Eric Schraeder please return the 1999 and 2000 trophies immediately?).
Nitpicks? The Martin Centre was hardly empty on the eve of this run. Good teams, good players and good fans filled the joint before Gonzaga basketball became a phenomenon. And a few minutes might have been devoted to more thoughtful explanation of how this little engine kept chugging when others couldn’t.
Some of it, of course, was simply a player’s mindset.
“If you don’t think about the heritage and pageantry of who you’re playing,” said Mark Spink, “it just becomes … a game.”