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Gonzaga trying to ace chemistry test again

Gonzaga basketball players watch the unveiling of the Zags’ Final Four banner during Kraziness in the Kennel last Saturday. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)
Gonzaga basketball players watch the unveiling of the Zags’ Final Four banner during Kraziness in the Kennel last Saturday. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)

The Kennel Club holding up giant numbers reflecting the latest revision to Gonzaga’s unbeaten record. Jordan Mathews releasing a 3-pointer that helped subdue West Virginia in the Sweet 16.

Coach Mark Few hoisting the West Regional trophy after GU clinched a spot in the Final Four. Few consoling tearful Nigel Williams-Goss in the closing seconds of the national championship game.

Those are several enduring images of Gonzaga’s record-shattering 2017 season.

A memorable off-the-court snapshot: Twitter image of Przemek Karnowski holding an ax during the team’s preseason retreat in the North Idaho woods.

The Zags last year had size, skill, experience and chemistry. The latter can’t be measured in a box score but Gonzaga seems to have a solid track record when it comes to team bonding.

The dynamics change every season with a new roster, but the Zags tried to cultivate chemistry at their recent retreat.

“We made some nice strides with our role identification, what we’re all about for some of the new guys and just basically pulling together a little bit,” Few said.

To the relief of several upperclassmen, the retreat didn’t involve camping this time.

“We went ziplining,” senior forward Johnathan Williams said. “I don’t like that stuff, I’m not really that outdoorsy, that’s why I don’t like camping.

“We had to conquer our fears. A lot of people were really out of their comfort zone but when you do it with your teammates and brothers you feel more comfortable and more confident. That’s what I got from it.”

“No camping this year,” said junior point guard Josh Perkins, sounding thankful. “That (ziplining) was scary. We did one that went 45-50 miles per hour. Whoa. Had some team talks, stayed the night, talked to each other. You never know what to expect from these guys, but it’s a great group of guys to be around. I can really call all of them my brothers.”

Corporations and teams from virtually every sport at every level utilize retreats to enhance team bonding, communication and trust through collaborative activities and tasks.

“We were in one of those rooms where you had to figure out how to get out,” Williams said. “Three groups of five in each group. We had to come together, find a way and find out the clues. You couldn’t argue and you had to work together.”

The Zags played pickleball, which isn’t exactly in Williams’ wheelhouse.

“I’m left-handed but I hit the ball right-handed,” he said. “I’m kind of uncoordinated. My team finished last.”

Last year’s Zags had the benefit of numerous experienced players, from returners Karnowski, Perkins and Silas Melson, to transfers Williams-Goss, Williams and Jeremy Jones, all three redshirted at GU in 2016. Mathews arrived in the fall as a graduate transfer, but he played in 102 games at Cal. Freshmen Zach Collins and Killian Tillie made seamless transitions.

The camaraderie was obvious. Players often mentioned outings to the bowling alley, movies or a sushi restaurant.

The current Zags just started practice last week, but they’re making a nice first impression.

“We’ve got some young guys buying in, faster than I bought in my freshman year. That’s good to see,” Perkins said. “A lot of hungry guys, a lot of guys that come work out every night. If we put the pieces together it’s going to be a good team.”

Good teams usually have good chemistry.

“We’re in the building process right now,” Williams said. “We just have to find ways to rally around, come together as a team. It’s going to take some time. Just try to build that chemistry back like it was last year, or even better.”