BUFFALO, N.Y. – The names are etched in Spokane’s collective memory, part of a monument to NCAA success.
Adam Morrison, Casey Calvary, Blake Stepp, Dan Dickau, Ronny Turiaf.
Big names. Big stars.
But for all the light those luminaries have helped shine on GU, there have been some lightly known heroes as well, coming from relative darkness to spark the Bulldogs’ NCAA success.
Clark Kent turning into Superman for a day.
Mark Spink coming off the bench against Stanford in ’99, all arms and legs and red hair entangling the Cardinal’s Mark Madsen and holding the bulky All-American in check as GU moved into the Sweet 16.
Alex Hernandez butting his way inside against Virginia, pumping in 15 points and helping the Zags to a one-point upset of the Cavaliers in 2001’s first round.
Since then, though, Gonzaga’s biggest names have consistently played the biggest roles.
Which brings us to today, when the Zags face what Mark Few calls “one of the biggest challenges we’ve ever had since I’ve been the head coach at Gonzaga.”
This morning at HSBC Arena, Gonzaga will take on the West Region’s top seed, Syracuse (29-4). There will be some 19,000 fans in attendance, about 18,000 of them wearing and rooting for the Orange.
The Zags just may need one of those out-of-nowhere heroes.
For the role can we offer Bol Kong?
The résumé is slim, sure. A 6-foot-6 redshirt sophomore averaging 4.6 points and 1.5 rebounds in just 12.5 minutes a game.
But there is one other number that stands out. He’s made 24 of the 55 3-point shots he’s attempted. That’s 43.6 percent on a team that shoots 36.2 percent. And that’s a skill that will be in demand today.
“You’ve got to step up and make shots against” Syracuse’s long, athletic, 2-3 zone, Few insisted Saturday. “I mean, (that’s) the only way you’re going to beat that thing. The teams that have beat it have stepped up and made shots. We won’t go away from that.”
And they may turn to Kong.
Starting guard Demetri Goodson does a lot of good things – igniting the fast break, harassing the opposing point guard, running the offense – but shooting from long range isn’t one of them. The sophomore has tried just 27 3-pointers this season, more than likely because he’s made just four.
With Steven Gray and Matt Bouldin able to handle the ball if needed, Kong is the next logical choice.
If he’s willing.
“It’s just a mind-set with Bol,” assistant coach Leon Rice said of Kong’s chance to step into the limelight. “When he’s aggressive and confident, like the Wake Forest game, he can come in, go crazy and make a lot of shots.”
In that 77-75 loss, Kong came off the bench and nailed all four of his 3-point attempts, helping GU stay close. It was one of six times this season he’s scored in double figures, though he’s never played more than 26 minutes.
Not too bad for a young man born in Sudan, immigrated with his family to Canada when he was 6, and took up basketball because “it’s an easy sport to play,” Kong said. “All you need is a ball and shoes, you can play hoops anywhere. Unlike hockey, where you have to buy all the equipment.”
After a year in junior college and one spent battling visa problems, Kong has taken his relatively raw game into the NCAA tournament.
“It’s been as competitive as I expected it to be,” he said. “You’ve got a lot of good guys, lots of good players, the competition is pretty tight. I wanted to come to a pretty big-time school and coming here, that’s what I got.”
So can he help Gonzaga today?
Rice thinks so.
“It’s just coming into this program and not really knowing how good you are or how good you could be,” Rice said. “Sometimes that takes time to build that confidence. Coach Few and the whole staff have just tried to build him up and build him up. He gets tentative sometimes.
“But when he just lets it rip, he’s dangerous.”
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