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John Blanchette: ‘Few Good Men,’ aka former Zag stars, need your vote

Dan Dickau, left, and Blake Stepp will be just two of several former Zags basketball stars to team up again to play in “The Basketball Tournament.” (File Associated Press)
Dan Dickau, left, and Blake Stepp will be just two of several former Zags basketball stars to team up again to play in “The Basketball Tournament.” (File Associated Press)

Dan Dickau hopscotched his way through six NBA seasons with as many teams – nine teams, really, if you count the times he was traded before he could don a uniform. But it only took one stop to grasp a simple truth.

“I never had the same feel about basketball – no, about a team, not basketball,” he said, “than when I put on a Gonzaga uniform.”

So he’s going to again, after a fashion.

Not just Dickau. Blake Stepp, his old backcourt mate from the early 2000s, too. Also Jeremy Pargo. Casey Calvary, Austin Daye, Josh Heytfelt, Micah Downs and assorted other Zags are joining in, as well.

And as it was back in their playing days at the Kennels, old and new, they could use a boost from their uber-devoted flock.

The old ’Dogs are jumping in with something called – in a touch both simple and grandiose – The Basketball Tournament. For three weekends this summer, 64 teams of ex-collegians and current and former pros will whittle themselves down March Madness-style to a final foursome in New York City – with a winner-take-all prize of $2 million.

That’s right, $2 million. These guys might not be in the NBA anymore, but they’ve still got too much game for your noon pickup at the Y.

But there’s potentially something in it for the ratball crowd. A $200,000 cut of that loot goes to fans who get out the vote that puts their faves into the tournament. More on that in a bit.

This mix of basketball, marketing, social media and nostalgia is inspired enough to have doubled the prize pot from a year ago and hooked ESPN, which will air the semis on July 30 and the Aug. 2 final. And it didn’t seem to have much trouble enticing the emeritus Zags – who will be known for TBT purposes as “Few Good Men.”

Heh, heh, heh.

Dickau heard about the tournament last year “but way too late to get involved,” he said, and promptly forgot about it until one of the organizers reached out this spring.

For TBT, it makes sense to steer the field toward teams stocked mostly with players from a specific school – a mostly Notre Dame team won the 2014 inaugural, and Boeheim’s Army, a collection of Syracuse players, had a good run last year. Surely it’s easier to grow an audience, and you’d think it would tamp down the pickup-ball aspect.

And in those respects, it’s hard to imagine a better fit than the Zags.

Dickau’s first call was to Stepp, but some of the recruiting has also been done by Jordan Piscopo, a Gonzaga grad who runs the Spokane Club’s elite program that has tapped into the Bulldog pedigree. Getting an enthusiastic yes from Pargo, who averaged 25 points a game in China this season, was something of a tipping point.

“That really escalated things for us,” Piscopo said.

Then it became about finding the right mix of older guys, younger legs, overseas pros and good fits – Mike Hart and Ira Brown falling into that category. Brown also lured the lone non-Zag on the current roster, St. John’s alum Justin Burrell, a 6-foot-9 forward who also plays in Japan’s national league.

Naturally, there will be armchair general managers out there with their own lineup ideas.

“Guys like Kevin Pangos we’d love to have involved,” Dickau acknowledged. “But those guys will be playing NBA summer league trying to make a roster, and that’s way more important.”

Rob Sacre? He’s getting married this summer. Ronny Turiaf? He sent his regrets.

“Josh will hold down the fort,” Turiaf tweeted. “Maybe I could coach and channel my inner Phil Jackson.”

But the team that’s been assembled is more than OK. In Pargo, they have what Dickau called “probably one of the five best point guards not playing in the NBA.” Daye averaged 21 points and nine rebounds in the rugged Italian league this year. Heytvelt and Brown have found success in Japan.

But enough about them. Let’s talk about you.

At the moment, Few Good Men have 563 votes, good for sixth in the West Region, which will be played in Los Angeles. If they can goose that up to 1,000 by June 1, they can design their own uniforms. If they hit 2,000 by July 1, they’ll be eligible to add another player – a ringer – should they make it to New York.

Fans, meanwhile, can earn equity by registering on thetournament.com and voting, and earn extra points for getting others to vote. The top 100 would share in any winnings.

It’s a good summer for this sort of thing. Next month, Dickau and Pargo will draft two teams of ex-Zags for a reunion run at the convention center on Hoopfest eve. The Basketball Tournament seems like a natural extension.

“I think that’s everybody’s feeling,” Dickau said, “that, you know what, we can play for Gonzaga one more time.”

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