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Trip to the Great Outdoors illustrated Gonzaga players’ cohesiveness

Gonzaga guard Zach Norvell, center, said the players started dreaming of a national title as early as September. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)
Gonzaga guard Zach Norvell, center, said the players started dreaming of a national title as early as September. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)

GLENDALE, Ariz.—Amidst a starry night sky and rows of trees, members of the Gonzaga men’s basketball team lined in a row and stretched out on their backs on a dock alongside Lake Pend Oreille River and collectively started dreaming.

During the Zags’ September team-bonding camping trip in September to Farragut State Park, a handful of players decided to trek down from their campsite to the water and look up at the stars.

It was a coalescing moment for the Zags. The team grew closer as teammates and friends and laid out their highest hopes and aspirations, which they are now less than 24 hours from reaching.

“It sounds like a movie or something like that, but we were actually sitting under the stars, like, ‘Man, we can make it to the championship game and win the entire thing,’ ” redshirt guard Zach Norvell said. “And now it’s happening. It’s pretty awesome.”

The 48-hour excursion over the Idaho border plunged many players from urban areas into unfamiliar territory.

Norvell mentioned he had never camped in his life. Johnathan Williams noted he was in the Boy Scouts when he was really young, but that experiment ended quickly.

“You’ll never see me camping any other day of my life,” he said.

The players were put into teams of four during the trip to undergoing various team exercises. The first was to set up a tent. One team, consisting of experienced campers in Ryan Edwards, Rem Bakamus, Przemek Karnowski and Dustin Triano, pitched their tent in just minutes. Everyone else’s tents were still in the rudimentary stages of assembly.

“I still don’t envision any them going camping ever again,” redshirt senior guard Bakamus said. “But it’s something that everyone tried and was open to.”

That willingness to leave their comfort zones was key moving forward for the Bulldogs. It allowed a team comprised of several transfers and freshmen, from all over the world, to put aside their egos and commit to winning.

“I just think like the overall message of the trip was to sacrifice,” Josh Perkins said during Friday’s press conference. “There was a lot of guys, like Coach said, that was coming in from different backgrounds, being the best player on their team from the team coming back. I just knew we had a lot of good pieces, and if we bought in for the same prize and gave it up for each other, the sky was the limit. And we’re speaking to that right now.”

It’s only fitting that the Bulldogs were thinking about the sky dreaming about what could be while staring at the Idaho sky.

And now that the dream has become a reality, it’s a powerful moment to recall for the players. Camping disdain and all.

“I look back at the moment and wish I could do it all over again,” Williams said. “Even though I really hate camping.”

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