As his basketball career progressed, Gonzaga senior center Robert Sacre’s free time dwindled to the point that he was rarely able to return home to North Vancouver, B.C.
“And that’s OK, we’ve respected that,” said Sacre’s mother, Leslie. “Usually when he had down time he was playing for the (Canadian) national team. We recognized for him to be successful he had to recognize Spokane as his home, and it’s a lovely place. We spend the majority of our time as a family having to visit him.”
It’s Sacre’s turn to do the traveling as he leads Gonzaga against Hawaii in the B.C. Classic tonight at Rogers Arena in Vancouver. Leslie Sacre estimated 200 of Robert’s family and closest friends will attend the game, just Gonzaga’s second outside the U.S. The Bulldogs played at a University of British Columbia tournament in 1966.
Sacre’s impact at GU mirrors his four years playing at Handsworth Secondary School, located about 10 miles from Rogers Arena.
“The first thing that comes to mind is his team dynamic was outstanding,” said Randy Storey, Sacre’s coach at Handsworth. “He cared about the 13th, 14th kid on the team as much as his buddy in the starting five. He wanted everybody to be happy and treated well. It made for a happy team.”
Storey said Sacre is well known inside and outside basketball circles, as is Kelly Olynyk, the Bulldogs’ junior forward who is scheduled to redshirt.
“He’s just so rare,” Storey said of Sacre. “There were times I was working camps, and I’d take him with me to talk to kids and grown adults who were beside themselves that, ‘Wow, I got to meet Rob.’
“I’ve heard (Gonzaga assistant coach) Tommy (Lloyd) refer to traveling with (ex-Zag) Adam Morrison as traveling with the fifth Beatle. It was like that here, kids asking for Rob’s autograph. He got recruited by 42 universities. I’d be in Mexico and I was getting calls from Notre Dame and Michigan. It was a very special, golden time for us.”
Storey enjoyed getting to know college coaches and picking their brains for practice drills and game strategy.
“He played for a great high school coach who did a wonderful job with his footwork,” Gonzaga coach Mark Few said. “That’s why he moves his feet so well and defends so well. We need to go up there and play as hard as (Rob) does.”
Sacre is averaging 18.5 points and 10 rebounds for Gonzaga, which is 2-0 with eight-point wins over Eastern Washington and Washington State, despite shooting just 39.3 percent.
Hawaii (1-0) handled Cal State Northridge 86-67 behind senior forward Zane Johnson’s six 3-pointers and 24 points. Sophomore forward Trevor Wiseman added 19 points and 16 rebounds.
The Rainbow Warriors were picked fourth in WAC preseason polls.