Expectations are nothing new for the Gonzaga men’s basketball program but they seem particularly high for the approaching season.
The Bulldogs hear the buzz, but offered a few reminders to those ready to leap ahead to March.
“A lot of people are projecting huge things – talking about the Final Four and being one of the best teams Gonzaga has ever had – but that doesn’t count at the end of the day if you don’t grind in the gym,” senior forward Elias Harris said. “Success isn’t going to come from talking about it.
“After 11 years, we start out not being the (WCC) regular-season champion and not being the WCC tournament champion. We can’t feel cocky. If anybody, it’s Saint Mary’s that should have a smile on their face. Now it’s time for us to practice hard and get back to what we do.”
That’s not to say Harris didn’t like what he saw as he surveyed the 2012-13 Bulldogs minutes before they took the floor Friday for their first official practice. Head coach Mark Few had a similar take.
“We had a heck of a season last year, but we didn’t win the league,” Few said. “Now we have to try to win that thing back, the tournament back, and that’s obviously one of the goals we have. We have a lot of guys returning, we have some nice experience and we have some tremendous depth. It’s right there with two of the (deepest) teams of the last 14 years. And we’re very skilled.”
Karnowski sits out
One of the primary reasons for the optimism surrounding the program is freshman Przemek Karnowski. The 7-foot-1 Polish center sat out most drills with a swollen left hand – it’s not believed to be broken – and he’ll probably be limited for 4-5 days.
“I got elbowed in an individual practice,” Karnowski said. “I will do all the stuff, but just no shooting, rebounding. I hope I can play soon and I’m really excited about it.”
Karnowski has already impressed his teammates and it didn’t take long for him to pick up a nickname.
“We call him ‘Shrek’ and we also call him ‘Shem,’ ” guard Kevin Pangos said. “He’s legit. He’s skilled, moves pretty well, great hands and he can pass the ball. He has so many tools for his size that a lot of players don’t have.”
Few mentioned Karnowski’s intellect, passing ability and “he’s got great touch. He’s got a ball that hits the rim and goes in. And he’s a good learner.”
Karnowski praised his teammates.
“This group of guys is good on the floor and also off the court,” he said. “I feel comfortable with all these guys.”
Growing up in East Peoria, Ill., Gonzaga assistant coach Ray Giacoletti spent countless hours at the Girardi house playing ballgames with neighborhood kids and eating meals prepared by Jerry Girardi.
Giacoletti was classmates with Jerry’s son, George, and a couple years older than George’s brother, Joe, who would go on to play 14 major league baseball seasons before becoming the manager at Florida and eventually the New York Yankees.
Jerry died last Saturday, prior to the first game of the New York-Baltimore playoff series. Jerry and Giacoletti’s father, Ray Sr., coached a junior high basketball team that included Ray, George and Joe. Giacoletti stays in touch with George, a doctor in Colorado.
“The family was unbelievable,” Giacoletti said. “Jerry cooked every night. It seemed like they had food cooking 24-7 and it was an open-door policy. Whoever was there just helped themselves. In those days, you didn’t have paid coaches, so Jerry and my dad were the coaches.”