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Gonzaga Basketball

GU men’s basketball notes: Poker, fishing, basketball among things uniting Mark Few and Jim Boeheim

Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim,keeps a close eye his team during practice on Thursday at the United Center in Chicago. Boeheim and Gonzaga coach Mark Few have been friends for a long time. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)
Jim Meehan and John Blanchette The Spokesman-Review

CHICAGO – They aren’t the Odd Couple, but the dynamic in the friendship of Mark Few and Jim Boeheim has a comic twist that goes beyond their six-inch difference in height.

“We became friends – a long time ago – I forget which Nike trip it was,” Boeheim recalled on the eve of today’s NCAA Sweet 16 game between his Syracuse Orange and Few’s Gonzaga Bulldogs.

“He jumped into our card game and got his butt kicked. He handled it well. He took his beating like a man and we’ve been friends really ever since.”

That friendship has included those Nike trips, Boeheim and wife Juli’s influence in helping Mark and Marcy Few launch their Coaches vs. Cancer events in Spokane, and their work with USA Basketball – Few having coached the Pan-Am Games team last summer, and Boeheim serving the organization in several capacities over the years, currently as chair of the junior national committee.

“He watches a lot of ball, that guy,” Few said. “I’m telling you, he’ll call me all the time, and we have late starts out on our coast. He’ll tell me what happened and what he thought in the game and all that. It’s really impressive.”

And then there’s fishing. So who’s the better angler?

“It’s not even close,” Few boasted. “But he has some potential once we get him off the golf course.”

Few does wish Boeheim’s public profile could be rehabilitated.

“He’s not the surly curmudgeon you all think he is,” Few said.

But Few isn’t looking to pad is pal’s resume.

“It would be nice to beat him once,” he said. “He’s got 900-odd of these under his belt and enough Final Fours. He can let us have one.”

A matter of degree

Gonzaga forward Kyle Wiltjer added an interesting perspective on the idea of March Madness this week with a blast he sent out on Twitter on Tuesday night.

“Just had my last class OF MY LIFE,” he wrote. “One paper and test away from my MBA.”

Sometimes it’s hard to fathom that in the midst of NCAA tournament delirium, there are still class schedules and course work to be juggled. With the redshirt season he had to take after transferring from Kentucky, Wiltjer has managed to squeeze two degrees into five years.

“I can see the finish line,” he said. “It’s tough to balance, but as long as you communicate with professors, it’s manageable.”

Flashback blues

There’s one member of the Gonzaga traveling party with a history in the United Center – radio analyst Matt Santangelo.

He was on the 1999-2000 Gonzaga team that visited Chicago to play in a short-lived early-season tournament called the Great Eight – the Zags losing to Temple 64-48.

“I think Richie Frahm and I shot something like 3-for-19,” he said. “Hopefully, they’ll have better luck against the Syracuse zone tomorrow than we had against that zone.”

Welcoming committee

Gonzaga had a special visitor waiting Wednesday night when the team arrived at their downtown hotel after fighting rush-hour traffic: Chicago prep product Zach Norvell, who committed to the Zags last November.

Norvell wasn’t able to attend Gonzaga’s open practice Thursday at the United Center but his father, Zach Sr., watched from the fifth row.

“We both did our brackets,” Zach Sr. said. “We both had Gonzaga coming to Chicago so we’re happy about that. I’m scared to text him right now because he’ll be like, ‘Daddy, why didn’t you bring me to practice?’ ”

The elder Norvell said his son picked Gonzaga because he liked his campus visit, the tradition of the program and “he loved the atmosphere. He wanted to get away from Chicago.”

The younger Norvell is following in the footsteps of former Zag guard and Chicago native Jeremy Pargo. Zach Sr. said Pargo has been a friend of the family. The elder Norvell played against Pargo’s brother Jannero in high school.

The Norvells and Pargo are expected to attend Friday’s game.

New gear

The players’ gift bags last week in Denver included a Nike sweat suit. In Chicago, they were sporting new Kobe 11 shoes.

“I like them a lot,” sophomore guard Silas Melson said. “Can’t wait to show them out Friday.”

Added Domantas Sabonis: “I’ve been playing in white shoes for the last two years so I’m not complaining.”

Sabonis on Sabonis

The 6-foot-11 sophomore forward is in round three of talking about his Hall of Fame father Arvydas. The two have a great relationship, his father helps with instruction when possible and the younger Sabonis has no problem discussing it, but it was the main topic from media at the WCC tournament, at last week’s first two rounds in Denver and again on Thursday in Chicago.

Sabonis patiently answered every question, as he did at the previous two stops.

“Everybody’s been asking me the same thing,” Sabonis said. “It’s OK, that’s their job.”