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Rob Curley: It’s all academic for this No. 1 seed as Gonzaga puts class in class act

Tue., March 14, 2017, 5:04 a.m.

Chris Morris special to the Spokesman
Chris Morris special to the Spokesman

Gonzaga’s basketball team has produced some truly staggering stats.

Oh, not the ones you read about in this newspaper’s sports section. Though those are pretty good, as well. It’s just that there are more dynamic data points that put the point in grade-point average.

The Zags are likely the smartest team to be a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament.

In today’s sabermetric world that measures minutiae, the numbers show that these Bulldogs have the Big Brains.

In college athletics, there’s something called APR – and it’s not related to the incomprehensible gibberish at the bottom of your loan paperwork.

This APR stands for academic progress rate. It’s a 1,000-point scale that tracks a university’s ability to ensure student-athletes are getting an education that prepares them for life once the games are over. It also anticipates whether athletes are going to graduate with a degree from that institution.

That all must seem kinda cute to most of the members of the starting five for Spokane’s hometown team.

Graduate? Degree? Ha!

You mean like the college degrees Nigel Williams-Goss, Jordan Mathews and Przemek Karnowski already have? And it’s not just that they have their bachelor’s degrees, it’s that they got them with some real style.

Nigel Williams-Goss is Gonzaga University’s sixth first-team Academic All-American.
Nigel Williams-Goss is Gonzaga University’s sixth first-team Academic All-American.

Williams-Goss got his psychology degree with a 3.84 GPA. He’s now working on his master’s degree in organizational leadership. Earlier this month, he was named a first-team Academic All-American, becoming the sixth Bulldog to receive the honor.

At least as far as academic eligibility is concerned, he’s just a junior. There’s the ambition most of us had in college, and then there’s what Williams-Goss has.

It’s hard to miss Karnowski on Gonzaga’s campus. At well over 7 feet tall and 300 pounds, it’s hard to miss Karnowski no matter where he is.

He even towers in the classroom. Karnowski has a 3.43 GPA and is working on his Master of Business Administration. The most impressive part about that? English isn’t his first language.

For Jordan Mathews, it’s about perfection.

He earned a 4.0 while enrolled in Gonzaga’s Master of Arts in Organizational Leadership program in the fall of 2016.

How does the rest of the team stack up? Let’s just say the only thing scarier than facing Gonzaga on the basketball court might be facing these guys on trivia night at the Iron Goat.

That takes us to the team’s overall APR score. The Bulldogs clock in with a 995 APR.

Out of 1,000.

That ranks as one of the highest APRs of any team ever to be a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. And it is the highest of any of this year’s top seeds.

So, who is the smartest Bulldog? Good luck getting a straight answer on that.

Josh Perkins has a 3.24 GPA in sports management.
Josh Perkins has a 3.24 GPA in sports management.

Maybe Josh Perkins can tell us. Perkins, along with Williams-Goss and Karnowski, was named to this year’s West Coast Conference All-Academic team. He has a 3.24 GPA in sports management.

“That’s a toss-up because there are a lot of smart guys on our team, but if I had to pick, it would be between Jordan, Przemek and Nigel,” Perkins said as he looked around the court at his teammates earlier this week.

C’mon. Pick one.

“Jordan is so articulate and thoughtful in how he explains and talks about things, and it always seems like he has the right answer, so if I had to pick, I’d give Jordan the crown,” he said. “Jordan is all-around smart. He’s got the book skills in the classroom, he has a lot of common sense and he’s got the everyday life skills.

Jordan Mathews earned a perfect 4.0 while enrolled in Gonzaga’s Masters of Arts in Organizational Leadership Program in Fall 2016.
Jordan Mathews earned a perfect 4.0 while enrolled in Gonzaga’s Masters of Arts in Organizational Leadership Program in Fall 2016.

“If you have questions, Jordan Mathews is your guy.”

Well, we do still have some questions, so let’s ask Mathews a couple.

Have you always been good in school?

“I’m a believer that school doesn’t test how smart you are; it really tests how well you can follow directions,” he says matter-of-factly. Then he pauses.

“When I was younger, I never really followed directions, so I got the poor marks. I’m much better at managing all of that now, because procrastination is my weakness. And that’s kind of based on my bloodlines because my mom is a master procrastinator.”

This team’s great chemistry has been talked about all season. What’s it like when they hang out?

“You should hear our team debate,” Mathews said with a big smile. “They are smart and funny, and you realize just how sharp all of these guys really are. Once they throw in their sense of humor, it really gets good.

“And it’s not just the guys you hear about having the strong grades. Zach Collins, Killian Tillie and Zach Norvell – those are some really sharp guys who will surprise you.”

Even when talking about Gonzaga’s brainy ways, Karnowski focuses on the team and not the individuals.

“It would be easy to try to put one on the top, but I don’t think we can do that,” he says in that deep voice that carries a country mile. “It’s like our team on the court: a lot of great players who work well together, but not really one dominant player.

“It’s what makes us a team because it’s never about the individuals, so it’s the collective intelligence that makes it work.”

Nice diplomacy, Shem. Great answer. Now actually tell us who the smartest guy on the team is.

“Our point guards, Nigel and Josh,” Karnowski said. “On the court, they read the game really well, can see how the game is developing and then react in ways that help us.

“Off the court, they’re that smart, too. Nigel is an Academic All-American. Josh is on all of the WCC academic lists. I have to give credit to those guys.”

So, who is the smartest on the court?

Przemek Karnowski boasts a 3.43 GPA grade-point average and is working on his Master’s of Business Administration. Karnowski, Josh Perkins and Nigel Williams-Goss were all named to the West Coast Conference All-Academic Team.
Przemek Karnowski boasts a 3.43 GPA grade-point average and is working on his Master’s of Business Administration. Karnowski, Josh Perkins and Nigel Williams-Goss were all named to the West Coast Conference All-Academic Team.

Karnowski lets out one of those huge laughs that immediately makes everyone else in the room smile.

“I don’t want to say me, but …”

Are there other college basketball teams that have higher SATs? Sure. The difference is there aren’t many elite college programs, you know, like say a No. 1 seed, that have this sort of intelligence and commitment to education.

So, say we were going to have a trivia bowl made up of the 64 teams in this year’s tournament. How would the Bulldogs fare?

“Oh, we’d win that,” Mathews said with no hesitation. “We have guys from Poland and France. We have Danish and Japanese guys on this team. We have business, politics, psychology, history. We would definitely own world trivia and we’d be great at American trivia.

“We have it all. We have the full context. We’d definitely win a trivia bowl.”

And would Gonzaga be a No. 1 seed in said trivia bowl?

“We’d have to be the favorites to win,” Williams-Goss said, sounding just as cool and calm as he does during an ESPN postgame interview.

“We would definitely have to be a one seed in a trivia bowl. In the tournament, we didn’t necessarily expect a one seed, but in a scenario like that, we would expect the one seed. And probably the overall one seed at that.”

Agreed.

Because the Zags really are one of the smartest top seeds in the history of the NCAA basketball tournament. We have the stats to prove it.



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