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Opinion >  Syndicated columns

Blanchette: Dawgs who became Bulldogs remember how it was, and what might have been

Former Zags guard Erroll Knight – here defending a last-second shot in a Bulldogs victory over Loyola-Marymount in 2006 – felt some heat after leaving UW. (File / SR)
Former Zags guard Erroll Knight – here defending a last-second shot in a Bulldogs victory over Loyola-Marymount in 2006 – felt some heat after leaving UW. (File / SR)

More than 65 years have passed since George Chalich officially turned the spigot and begat the trickle of basketball transfers from the University of Washington to Gonzaga that continues intermittently today.

His reason was the most compelling of them all.

“Mom called me when I was a sophomore at the U,” Chalich recalled, “and said, ‘You have to get your brothers out of jail.’ Eli and Nick were tearing up the valley.”

So in September of 1950, he returned home to help the widowed Martha Chalich ride herd on six younger children. But he didn’t give up on school and he didn’t give up on basketball – and he didn’t have to finesse a public spectacle because the two schools were on a 26-year break from playing one another. And even when they had played back then, it was no spectacle.

Things are different now. Again.

The Huskies and Zags are back at it Wednesday night on the Gonzaga campus, the first time such a thing has happened in a decade – if you don’t count a year ago, which no one does because it happened in another country and at a time of day before anyone in the Northwest could decide between poached and over easy.

Amping up the pizzazz is the presence of yet another UW getaway in the Gonzaga lineup. Even if Nigel Williams-Goss, as it’s pointed out elsewhere in this edition, didn’t know the Dawgs and Zags were ever a thing when he changed area codes because of this most recent hiatus.

And then there’s this: Only two players remain on coach Lorenzo Romar’s Washington’s roster who shared a locker room with Williams-Goss.

Williams-Goss has and will continue to put on his just-another-game face, even if the outside world won’t let it be one.

“You’re going to be aware of the noise, absolutely,” said Dan Dickau, who followed the same path 17 years ago with some of the same attendant chatter. “It’s about how you block it out.”

Not all the riders on the Montlake shuttle had to hear it.

Eric Brady had two nondescript years at UW in the ’80s and was so disenchanted with the idea of going through recruiting again that he committed to GU without a campus visit. Jeff Brown came home after a similar experience – and then laid the foundation for the Zags’ rise.

But Erroll Knight transferred at the height of the hostilities, and as a homegrown Husky felt some sting.

“Absolutely,” he said. “In Seattle, there was a lot of hearsay, and people were disappointed when I left. I was dealing with that burden of coming back home and having people hate you. It’s kind of surreal for a 19-year-old.”

Knight had seen the coach who recruited him, Bob Bender, fired and needed to detach himself from the pull of friends and the city. Dickau had battled injuries through two years and felt the staff had become more enchanted with his replacement, Senque Carey.

“But it wasn’t him and it wasn’t a knock on U-Dub – it was me,” he said. “I was looking at Richie (Frahm), Casey (Calvary), Zach (Gourde) – my buddies from AAU – and they’d just made the Elite Eight. I wanted to be a part of this.”

Oddly enough, neither had big roles in the series.

Dickau missed his first game against UW with a broken finger, and as a senior scored just eight points, his only time in single digits all season. Injuries kept Knight out of his last two UW-GU games, too – and he virtually took himself out of the first.

“Both teams were family,” he said. “I had tons of emotions. Coach (Mark) Few saw the look in my eyes before the game and asked, ‘How are you doing?’ I was out of it.”

But there were bigger payoffs. The modern-day transfers experienced uncommon success which – Knight being the exception – they wouldn’t have had they stayed.

And the guy who started it? Chalich played for four coaches in four years, and noted that if he’d stayed “I could have been with that group that had (Bob) Houbregs and (Joe) Cipriano (that made the Final Four). But if the dog didn’t have to stop and take a crap, he’d have caught the rabbit.”

Agreed Dickau, “There were times I wondered ‘What if I’d stayed?’ I’m sure Nigel has those, too – what would have happened with that (UW) team last year that had Dejounte Murray and Marquese Chriss?”

Dickau is among the thousands happy the series has been revived – and not because he needs to hate a rival with the heat of a thousand suns, but because there are bonds to reaffirm.

As he tells the story, when he’d narrowed his transfer options in 1999 to Gonzaga and Saint Louis, he put in a call to the Billikens coach at the time to say he was visiting the Zags first.

“He told me, ‘Gonzaga is the perfect place for you – there’s not a better place. If it’s not, call me and we’ll have you down.’ So I commit on the visit and I call him back and he says, ‘You made a great decision. You’ll have a great career there.’ ”

That coach?

Lorenzo Romar.

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