Mike Hart was a freshman in the locker room when Gonzaga assistant coach Tommy Lloyd informed the team that walk-on guard Andrew Sorenson had been rewarded with a scholarship.
“At the time,” Hart said, “I was hopeful I could get that experience one day.”
He experienced it a couple of weeks ago. Following Gonzaga’s 79-59 win over Loyola Marymount, Lloyd broke the news that Hart and redshirt freshman guard David Stockton had been given scholarships.
The timing couldn’t have been better for Hart, a 6-foot-6 redshirt sophomore who earned All-Metro League honors playing for Jesuit High in Portland. His parents were in town for the LMU game.
“We actually had a talk the night before the game about the money issues and if I was going to be coming back for my fifth year,” Hart said. “This will definitely help out if I choose to come back for that fifth year.”
Hart told his mom about the scholarship and then “surprised my dad a little later by telling him at dinner.”
Stockton, son of John Stockton, the former Zag who entered the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame in 2009, is averaging 13.7 minutes per WCC game after playing 10.9 minutes during non-conference games. Stockton averages 3.3 points and his 1.74 assist-to-turnover ratio (3.5 in WCC games) is second to Demetri Goodson’s 2.0 on the team.
Hart has appeared in 18 of 22 games, often entering as a defensive specialist. He’s scored 12 points, grabbed 17 rebounds and drawn several charging fouls in 68 minutes. He tried out and made the team as a freshman. He redshirted that season and then saw time in 14 games last season.
“You’re very proud that they’re part of your team and you’re not having to play against them on some other team,” center Rob Sacre said. “Mike works so hard and he pushes guys so much. He gets better and he makes guys around him better.”
Freshman forward Sam Dower scored 42 points on 17-of-19 shooting in two games last week. He also had 12 rebounds, two steals and a blocked shot. After Dower scored 27 points in Saturday’s win over San Diego, head coach Mark Few credited Dower for working on his game, even when he was seeing limited playing time.
Asked to elaborate on what he worked on, Dower mentioned offensive and defensive drills.
“When I first got here, I just had a left-handed jump hook,” Dower said. “I kept working in individual workouts on my right hand. I couldn’t use it at all. I drove right a couple of times (against San Diego). I’ve worked on my jump shot and I think I can knock down a mid-range shot consistently.”
Dower also worked on defending shorter, quicker players.
“With coach ‘Jack’ (Ray Giacoletti), I worked on my lateral defense,” Dower said. “I pass the ball out to Stockton, close out and he tries to drive to the basket.”
Dower said the drill helps him defend forwards, but also guards when GU switches on screens.
The first half of the WCC is over with Saint Mary’s leading at 6-1, the surprising duo of San Francisco and Santa Clara at 5-2 and pre-season favorite Gonzaga and Portland at 4-3. Pepperdine, 3-11 last season, is 3-4 after knocking off USF on Saturday. LMU, picked second, is 1-6.
Portland, which entertains Gonzaga on Thursday, used a 27-2 run to thump Saint Mary’s 85-70.
“All those teams are a lot older now and they’re more experienced,” Few said. “Everybody has shrunk to the middle I think. There’s no givens any night, especially on the road.”
The Zags believe they still have a chance to extend their streak of WCC championships to 11. Five of GU’s seven conference games are on the road, while Saint Mary’s has four of seven at home.
“There’s not a top team in the conference, a huge spread like it used to be,” Sacre said. “I think Gonzaga set a trend for our conference and people had to step up their recruiting and their games. It’s now challenging us, and that’s a good thing for us and the conference.”