They came early. They stayed late.
Some 90 minutes before the start of the Gonzaga men’s basketball team’s season-opening Kraziness in the Kennel on Friday, the line of fans waiting to enter the McCarthey Athletic Center went beyond the Martin Centre. And nearly 45 minutes after the event finished, the line of autograph seekers still stretched across one of the concourses inside the MAC.
“It’s one of the reasons you come here,” said 7-foot, 238-pound sophomore forward Kelly Olynyk, who has added one inch and 23 pounds from his freshman season. “The atmosphere is so crazy and everybody loves basketball. You see the effort the fans put in. We have to try to match that on the court and feed off it.”
The event, which included player introductions, shooting competitions and a 15-minute scrimmage, “is for the players and the fans, so I think mission accomplished there,” head coach Mark Few said.
But the coach didn’t leave empty-handed.
“We were kind of stuck about whether to let them run up and down and have some fun or try to get something out of it,” Few said. “We tried to execute and do some things defensively, and we have some film we can watch a little bit and work off it.”
The White team, which consisted of most of the returning starters and experienced players, defeated the Blue 28-22 in front of perhaps 5,000 fans. Senior guard Steven Gray hit a pair of 3-pointers and led the White with eight points. Elias Harris, the team’s top returning scorer, chipped in five points, four rebounds and two assists. Robert Sacre added six points.
“Some of us who have played in a few of these – Robert, ‘Meech’ (Demetri Goodson) – were expecting something a little sloppier than what actually happened,” Gray said. “So that was definitely a plus, and then just getting a feel for the (new) guys we’ll be playing with.”
GU’s bigs are bigger than they were a year ago. Olynyk, Harris and redshirt freshman forward Sam Dower have added bulk since Gonzaga concluded last season with a second-round NCAA loss to Syracuse.
“Just lifting every day and protein shakes,” said Dower, who weighs 248 pounds after arriving at Gonzaga at about 220. “It’s a physical game, especially banging with Rob in the post. I couldn’t hang with him last year and that’s the reason I redshirted.”
Manny Arop, who suffered a broken foot in the WCC Tournament, looked to be his energetic, bouncy self, piling up nine points and two boards to lead the Blue. Dower scored 10 points and Mike Hart pulled down six boards.
Several newcomers made nice first impressions. Marquise Carter and Mathis Monninghoff had field goals for the White. Mathis Keita had a pair of assists, including a nifty feed to Arop for a layup. Arop teamed with a Kennel Club fan to win the 3-point shooting contest, edging Carter, who was on target with most of his shots, and his teammate.
“I just found out when we were in the locker room, someone else was assigned to do it but they kind of backed out,” said Carter, who played at Three Rivers Community College last season. “I was nervous, my first time in front of the fans, but after I got out there I felt pretty good shooting it.”
The Bulldogs return to practice this morning and they’ll probably have two workouts Sunday. GU entertains Southern Oregon in an exhibition game Nov. 5 with the season opener against Southern on Nov. 12.