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Sports >  Gonzaga basketball

Bulldogs center creates perfect mixture of hard work, good fun

GU’s Robert Sacre is known for his out- going personality and leadership traits.  (Dan Pelle)
GU’s Robert Sacre is known for his out- going personality and leadership traits. (Dan Pelle)

During Christmas break a couple of years ago, Robert Sacre and Steven Gray “borrowed” Austin Daye’s mattress and went sledding.

Swimming in the ocean with his teammates after the Bulldogs won the Maui Invitational last season, Sacre’s voice could be heard on the warm breezes by visitors sitting in beach chairs 100 yards away.

Last month amid the chatter of teammates and the rhythmic beat of music in the locker room after a Gonzaga home game, Sacre altered his booming voice into a German accent, presumably in an attempt to entertain or razz teammate Mathis Mönninghoff. It didn’t necessarily work, but it left several Zags, including Mönninghoff, smiling at the effort.

“No matter what the situation, what you see is what you get,” Gray said of Sacre’s larger-than-life personality. “It’s fitting. It just attracts people to him.”

Sacre seems to be on a quest for three things during his Gonzaga career: earn his degree, which should be taken care of in May; work his tail off to become a complete center; and have a blast in the process.

“Nothing good comes easy,” Sacre said. “It might not be the greatest thing the first day, but you just keep working and eventually you’ll see great results. I’ve probably put hundreds of hours in during the summer. Right now I work on my game as much as I can, but the fact is you can only do so much to get prepared. The summer is where I dial in on what I need to work on.”

Case in point: Sacre was a 63 percent free-throw shooter his first three years (he broke his foot five games into the 2009 season and received a medical redshirt). This season he’s at 83 percent and ranks among the WCC leaders. He forced himself to make 10 straight free throws before he could end summer workouts.

“I had a lot of long days because of it,” he said.

Sacre, who is from North Vancouver, British Columbia, began blossoming last season as a sophomore when he averaged 10.3 points and 5.4 rebounds. He’s at 13.9 points and 6.8 rebounds this year.

“He came in very raw, questionable hands and he was kind of stiff,” head coach Mark Few said. “Last year he worked himself into being a pretty good low-post scorer, so good that people started doubling him. He’s passing out of those better and he found guys Saturday (against San Francisco) that led to big shots.

“His range has grown, his free-throw shooting has improved dramatically and it’s all because of the work he puts in.”

Sacre’s arsenal includes a jump shot out to 17 feet, left-handed jump-hooks and an occasional drop-step. There haven’t been any shortcuts along the way.

“You know what you’re going to get from Rob night in, night out, every practice, and that’s a great quality to have,” Few said. “He’s the epitome of a big guy that came in and really made himself a lot better.”

Sacre has become a team leader, a natural extension of his 7-foot, 260-pound stature and his outgoing personality.

“I would say he’s the leader,” sophomore forward Elias Harris said. “He’s the one who talks the most, yells around. When he says something, at least with me, everybody does it. Steven is more of the quiet guy, more in the background and he does his job. Rob is more of the vocal dude.”

Sacre would like to become more of a rebounding dude. He’s averaging 6.8 boards but acknowledges, “I know there is more in me. I showed everyone I can board (with 15) against Oklahoma State. I need to pick it up a little more.”

Sacre’s dad, Greg LaFleur, a former Louisiana State tight end who played in the NFL, is the athletic director at Southern University. His mom, Leslie, who lives in Canada, was a standout basketball player at LSU. Sacre said his personality is similar to that of his gregarious grandfather.

“We’ve had some unbelievable personalities, and he’s certainly at the top with all those guys,” Few said.

Sacre’s long-range goal is play professionally.

“I’m not even close to peaking. That’s why I’m so happy, I have so much more to work on,” he said. “I want to play as long as my body can keep playing and when it’s over I’ll probably go into coaching. That’s why I don’t have any tattoos below the elbow. They can be covered up with a short sleeve or a polo.”

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