It’s not every game Spokane viewers receive a hometown look for one of Gonzaga’s West Coast Conference road contests, but such was the case Saturday night.
The local announcing crew of Greg Heister, Dan Dickau and Richard Fox made the trip to Stockton, California, and delivered the Zags’ last game of 2016 to the KHQ audience.
Which means there were probably a few folks out there who sighed and muttered something under their breath about longtime play-by-play man Heister. Seems to be a pastime around here.
Look, it’s a given radio and television voices have their acolytes and their detractors, no matter who they are.
But Heister’s 15-year tenure has seemingly been marked by more criticism than praise. There is even a “Fire Greg Heister” Facebook page, though it’s been somewhat moribund for the past year. As well it should be.
Sure, it’s hard not to say some of the disapproval has been earned. There is the occasional gaffe or misidentification, which Heister’s critics jump on more often than they probably should.
But for the most part Heister, the former KHQ sports anchor, has grown into the role of traffic cop between his two partners, former Gonzaga players who fill the analyst roles as a second career.
And, if you listen carefully, you’ll realize he also shows more of an understanding of the game’s nuances than he’s given credit for over the years.
Take Saturday’s 81-61 win at Pacific for example, Gonzaga’s 14th consecutive one to start the season.
Heister misspoke a couple times, including calling it Pacific University in the postgame show – it’s the University of the Pacific – and messing up some basic math – Gonzaga had the ball and led 57-46 with a little more than 7 minutes left before Heister said “the Zags can get back to double figures here.”
But that was the extent of it. And, on the other side of the ledger, he was the only one of the trio to pinpoint a key element lacking as the Zags’ somnolent performance led to a 34-29 halftime deficit.
As is his way, Heister let Dickau and Fox analyze the first half’s effort. The duo, who seem to get at the heart of the matter more often than not, focused on the Zags’ hit-and-miss offensive organization and energy, two things that plagued them the first half in both of their WCC games.
Then, as the half was winding down and time running short, Heister added a short comment.
“I think it starts on the other end,” he said, referring, of course, to GU’s defense. “They have to create turnovers.”
Turns out it was the play-by-play guy who had the right formula.
Gonzaga improved on the defensive end, holding Pacific to 40.7 percent shooting and forcing six turnovers, which turned into 11 points. Maybe more importantly, seeing the Zags struggled with turnovers themselves, they only allowed two transition points in the half.
As the Zags were pulling away down the stretch – they outscored Pacific 52-27 after halftime – Fox referred back to Heister’s comment.
“Definitely, that had to be the primary adjustment, that end of the floor,” Fox admitted. “I think you hit it perfectly. That’s really where the game changed for GU.”
And, before you think it’s just a partner blowing smoke, that’s not the method of operation between the trio.
Most of the time there is more light-hearted ribbing than praise. And there is a willingness among the three to call out what they believe to be a dubious opinion.
For example, Heister made a point after the game that Dickau immediately jumped on, offering a differing view. It caused Fox and Heister to smile.
And helps give the group its chemistry.
They all agreed Gonzaga wasn’t playing with the needed energy in the opening 20 minutes. They disagreed on the reasons. They agreed on Przemek Karnowski’s importance to the Zags. They didn’t on a couple of foul calls.
And through it all, Heister brings up subjects and throws them to his partners.
Heister commented on a Karnowski pass in the first half, one of Karnowski’s career-high seven assists, and Dickau responded. “Przemek just keeps making the right decisions.”
Heister noticed Johnathan Williams’ energy level had ratcheted up a notch after a physical confrontation with 6:49 left and Fox was ready with a statistic: the Missouri transfer had scored 10 of his 14 points after it occurred.
And as the game wound down, Heister summed up what everyone knew.
“The final score is not going to reflect truly what type of game it was,” he said.
A cliché, sure. But true as well.
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