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Gonzaga players enjoy family-style feast while marching to another Sweet 16

UPDATED: Tue., March 20, 2018, 9:18 p.m.

Gonzaga’s Silas Melson, Johnathan Williams and Brian Pete celebrate Senior Night with their families before the Pepperdine game on Feb. 17 in  McCarthey Athletic Center. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)
Gonzaga’s Silas Melson, Johnathan Williams and Brian Pete celebrate Senior Night with their families before the Pepperdine game on Feb. 17 in McCarthey Athletic Center. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)

The Gonzaga Bulldogs had plenty of supporters in their corner in the first and second rounds of the NCAA Tournament last week in Boise.

A few of the team’s family members were also in the crowd cheering on the Zags as they secured a fourth consecutive appearance in the Sweet 16.

Seniors Johnathan Williams and Silas Melson didn’t have to look too far to see their families in the stands. In the front rows were Williams’ parents and a whole squad of Melsons, including Silas’ two younger brothers.

Johnathan’s father, Johnny, was behind the bench, just as energetic as he was on Senior Night at the Kennel last month, when he was jumping up and down and holding up three fingers on both hands for his son’s jersey number.

At Taco Bell Arena in Boise, he was holding up three fingers again nearly every time Johnathan made a shot. He was jumping in the stands and had fun with the pep band, dancing along and acting as a conductor.

“I have to calm him down sometimes,” Johnny’s wife Barbara said.

The Williamses were too excited for this season’s run to stay at home in Tennessee. They said they were planning to follow the Zags to the end of their march in the NCAA Tournament, which could take them all the way to San Antonio for the Final Four.

“Oh, absolutely,” Barbara said Saturday. “And some other family members are probably going to start tagging along as we go forward.”

Silas’ father, Tony, and stepmother, Nnenna Lewis, were also planning to keep on the road with the Zags, even though it might hurt their wallets.

But the location for the first two rounds helped ease expenses. Like so many other Gonzaga fans last week, they had the option to drive from their home in Portland to save a few bucks. Driving also allowed them to bring their other children, who don’t get to tag along on the road as often because of how expensive the trips can get.

“We were just so happy that it was in Boise, and that we got to bring the boys,” Tony said.

Tony said he and his wife will follow Silas to the Sweet 16 in L.A., but the younger two might have to stay at home and watch the game on TV.

“It depends on the cost of the flight tickets … we haven’t missed a lot, but our savings are being compromised,” Tony said.

The Melsons have followed Silas in all four of his runs in the NCAA Tournament, dating back to his first season with the Bulldogs in the 2014-15 season. They only missed Gonzaga’s trip to Denver in 2016 for the first two rounds of the tournament.

Joining the seniors’ parents in the stands were a handful of other families. Guard Jesse Wade’s family took up seven seats halfway up the stands behind the Gonzaga bench.

The NCAA Tournament wasn’t new to Jesse’s father Eric, the first to get inside the SAP Center in San Jose, California, last year when the Zags marched through the Sweet 16 and Elite Eight. At the time, Jesse was still in Lyon, France, finishing his two-year Latter-Day Saints mission before joining the team this season.

Eric was back in the stands this year, cheering on Jesse in his first run through the tournament. He brought along a few other family members this time, including his 16-year-old son Josh and Jesse’s wife, Jade.

Just one row in front of them were Corey Kispert’s parents, Craig and Deri, who traveled to Boise from their home in Seattle. The Kisperts have followed their son to a number of big matchups this season, including the PK80 Invitational in Portland in November, Saint Mary’s in Moraga, California, in February and the West Coast Conference Tournament in Las Vegas at the beginning of the month.

They even made a trip to Madison Square Garden in New York City when the Zags fell to Villanova in December. They went to cheer on the Zags despite Corey being on the sidelines with an ankle injury.

Much like last year’s run, more family members are expected to be in the stands at the West Regional this week.

Work and other children have kept some families from following the march. Backup junior guard Jeremy Jones’ parents made it to Boise, but they said they wouldn’t be able to get away from work for another week to follow the Zags to the Staples Center.

Tony can certainly relate to the ongoing struggle to find balance between the Zags and work. But he said he couldn’t let work get in the way of him watching his son’s last NCAA Tournament run this season.

“We handle it,” he said. “But this is once in a lifetime.”

Follow along with the Zags

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