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Boosters set up GU with a plane

Gonzaga basketball road games aren’t going to get any easier, but the road trips should, beginning later this month.

Thanks to the contributions of four boosters, Gonzaga University is leasing a 30-seat charter plane that the men’s and women’s teams will use for most of the rest of this season and hopefully future seasons as well, athletic director Mike Roth said.

The plane will arrive in Spokane on Dec. 14. The women’s team will be the first to use it when it visits Tennessee on Dec. 16. The men’s team will use the plane for all its remaining trips, beginning with a Dec. 20 contest against Oklahoma in Oklahoma City through the WCC tournament in San Diego.

“We’re just so blessed to have the type of boosters and supporters we have,” men’s coach Mark Few said. “They’ve been a big part of this, really pushing us and helping us grow the program to match the level of what these players have been doing on the court as a national program.”

Roth, Few and women’s coach Kelly Graves said the plane offers numerous benefits, from recruiting to student-athletes missing fewer class days. The amount of travel time should be lowered significantly.

“You can’t fly anywhere to and from Spokane without going through someplace else; now they’re going straight to the destinations and back, so we’ll save a night’s hotel,” Roth said. “On games during the week, they’ll get back the night of the game so academically it should have another positive impact and ultimately it should have an impact on recruiting.”

The women’s team will use the plane for WCC road games, but not for a couple of upcoming non-conference road trips.

“This is something that really is going to set us apart from a lot of places,” Graves said. “It works out terrific on our first trip. We play Tennessee on a Sunday and we wouldn’t have been able to get out of town until Monday. It’s important to get home because we’ve got Purdue on Wednesday.”

GU’s men often travel to the East Coast and/or Midwest at least a couple times each season. Last year, Gonzaga played in New York City, Phoenix, Georgia (followed by a second trip to New York City) and Virginia before it played a WCC game.

This year, Gonzaga’s schedule includes trips to Anchorage, the just concluded two-game East Coast swing, Oklahoma City and a January trip to Memphis. Gonzaga flew commercially to Anchorage and used two booster-donated smaller jets for the East Coast trip.

In recent seasons, the Bulldogs have used booster-donated jets (that typically seat 7-9) for selected trips.

“Being in Spokane we have the worst travel of anyone in our league and we have to go places to play people,” Few said. “It’s not easy getting in and out of here. It’s a great move for the program academically and for how we do our business.”

Senior David Pendergraft chuckled when asked to recount some travel nightmares during his career.

“We won a big game (against Oklahoma State) in Oklahoma City, flew into Missouri, had to drive like three hours to play at Missouri, lost, and had to drive three hours back,” he said. “Then had a layover from wherever we flew out of and then a long flight back. That was a miserable trip. I just remember all the waiting and bus rides and delays.”

The four benefactors have asked to remain anonymous, said Roth, adding that he hopes to add a fifth to the mix. He declined to specify how much money they pledged, but noted, “it’s expensive. We’re talking commas.

“One benefactor originally had the idea and another said, ‘We’re going to make this work, we’ll put our money where our mouth is,’ ” Roth said. “Since then we’ve been able to add two more benefactors to make it viable.”

Several options were discussed, including the actual purchase of a plane by the boosters. “Those discussions took place,” Roth said, “but the reality was that this plane became available and this plan was viable for a significantly less amount of investment by everyone involved.”

Including GU. “We’re not taking any extra dollars to make it work,” he said. “We are going to use the money budgeted to pay for (the teams’) commercial flights to help make this work, but in the scheme of things it’s a nominal amount.”

The plane is being leased from Ultimate JetCharters, based in Canton, Ohio. When not in use, it will be housed in hangar space at Spokane International Airport.

“Flying the plane back and forth (from Ohio) would have been cost-prohibitive,” Roth said. “We’re actually saving money by utilizing it for the women and it’s a great benefit for both teams.”

The typical men’s travel party is 22 with the remaining spots reserved for the four boosters. If there are any seats left, Roth said they would likely go to GU development officials.

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