SAN JOSE, Calif. – Gonzaga coach Mark Few held up the West Region championship trophy with a big smile on his face.
On a stage in the center of the court, the Zags crowded around and congratulated their coach after they downed Xavier 83-59. In Few’s 18 years as a head coach, he’s never had a chance to celebrate a trip to the Final Four.
But after the win on Saturday, he made it clear – this one was for all the Zags, past and present.
“This was a culture win and a culture statement,” Few said.
On Saturday, the Zags’ culture made an appearance online. A majority of the former Zags went to social media to congratulate Few on the win and to show their support for this year’s team.
Zag alumni…they did it for us. Final four bound baby! And we still not done yet!— Samuel Dower Jr. (@DoloDower) March 26, 2017
Gary Bell Jr., Adam Morrison, Sam Dower Jr. and Kevin Pangos posted congratulatory tweets directed toward the current Zags immediately after the buzzer sounded.
“On behalf of every Zag… Thank you boys!!” Pangos wrote.
Halfway through the game, Kyle Wiltjer and Domantas Sabonis posted a video of themselves watching Gonzaga play on television. David Stockton, Kelly Olynyk and Kyle Dranginis uploaded photos of their 2013 team with captions praising the 2017 team.
“So proud of my dudes! Final Four! History!” read a caption over Olynyk’s photo of his past GU team celebrating on the sidelines.
Gonzaga only came close to grabbing a spot in the round of four two other times – in 1999 and 2015 – before falling in the Elite Eight. Since this team began drawing national attention at the start of the season with its winning streak, Few has been called to compare his 2017 Zags to those prior seasons that nearly broke the threshold to the Final Four.
“Everybody was asking me, ‘Is this your best team?’ in November. It’s not fair. It’s not fair in December. It’s not fair in January,” Few said.
Earlier in the tournament, Few said naming his best team would be like choosing a favorite child. But several media outlets, fans and past players were quick to say the 2017 team was the best yet. They noted the similaries and differences between this team and past seasons almost immediately this year, particularly between 2017 and the 2013 Zags, who were projected to go far in the NCAA Tournament but instead fell to Wichita State in the round of 32.
March seemed like a good time to get Few to finally draw the comparisons. So after Saturday’s historical win, Few was asked again: Is this your best team?
This time, he had a clear answer. Yes.
“They’re 36-1, going to the Final Four. Absolutely. I mean, it is,” Few said.
But, of course, that’s not taking anything from his other 17 teams he’s coached since GU’s first Elite Eight team in 1999.
“It’s hard. It’s hard to get here where we are,” Few said. “There were some other teams that were every bit as good and deserving and all that and just didn’t catch a break. So I feel for them, but I also, I know those guys on those teams are so happy for these guys.”
The current Zags seemed to agree. Johnathan Williams said it was all the former Zags who made the program so exceptional that it attracted some of the nation’s best.
“It’s an amazing feeling, you know, just to do it for them,” Williams said. “If it wasn’t for them guys I don’t think I would be here because they created recognition for the school and for the basketball program, and I just want to thank them for that.”
Other players went to social media to thank all the former Zags who helped pave the road to the Final Four.
Thank you to every Zag who came before us! Y’all showed us the way no doubt. And thank you to everyone who believed in us! #WhatMonkey?— Rem Bakamus (@RemFifteen) March 26, 2017
Reserve Rem Bakamus, who has been with the Zags for five years, posted to Twitter right after the game, “Thank you to every Zag who came before us! Y’all showed us the way no doubt,” Bakamus wrote.
Nigel Williams-Goss went to Instagram and posted a photo of him holding up a piece of the net after the ceremonial cutting of the net at the end of the game. In the caption, Williams-Goss directed his appreciation to “the CULTURE! Zag Nation (fans, alums, past players) this is for y’all!!!”
Earlier in the month Williams-Goss wrote a letter to “Zag Nation” in the Players Tribune, an online media platform that publishes content written by collegiate and professional athletes.
In his piece published on March 13, Williams-Goss directly addressed all the players who played in the Kennel before he did, telling them they deserve to finally get rewarded for their hard work throughout the previous seasons.
“All the former Zags who paved the way – we owe them,” Williams-Goss wrote. “Now it’s time to finish what they started.”
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