The main lights are down, music is pumping and the cheerleaders align themselves perpendicular from the bench. As introductions are booming out from the PA announcer, Jack Beach is positioned right after the cheerleaders, eagerly awaiting the starting five.
Beach is the bona fide handshake specialist and has been for the past two seasons after Rem Bakamus graduated. Bakamus was the original handshake leader, adopting the role to be more involved with his teammates.
Players share unique handshakes with each other, but Beach has one with everyone, and his are the most sought after and scrutinized. His are seen by all 6,000 people in the Kennel for home games and more if they make it on TV or social media. One hesitation or a wayward hand and the execution falls apart.
To his credit, only once has he failed to perform, and that was before the North Carolina game after he and Rui Hachimura designed a new one. That one was in front of more than 21,000 people and on ESPN.
“It hurt a little bit. We hadn’t practiced it much, but it won’t happen again,” Beach said.
Other players aren’t so sure the handshake caused any lingering effects, but Bakamus thinks Beach might have a different feeling.
“I know he’s particular,” Bakamus said. “If he screws up and we don’t play well, I know he blames himself in the handshake line.”
“I make sure I get everybody that I have one with. If I were to ever miss one, I would definitely feel like something was wrong,” Beach said.
Superstitions aside, Beach is an important member of the Gonzaga bench along with the other four walk-ons.
He is in his fourth year with the Zags (including his redshirt season), and he is the stereotypical Gonzaga walk-on – a key contributor on a high school team who wants to walk on to a national title-caliber team.
The Zags have a history of popular walk-ons, most recently Bakamus and former players-turned GU coaches Mike Hart and Brian Michaelson.
Beach, from San Diego, went to Torrey Pines High School, where he helped the Falcons to a 31-4 record while averaging 12.1 points, 4.3 rebounds and 3.8 assists. His specialty was 3-point shooting, making 60 in 35 games as a senior and 87 in 130 total games.
While his name doesn’t pop out on the stat sheets, he helps the Zags prepare for upcoming opponents during practice and keeps the bench lively during the game with fun celebrations – just as his former walk-on teammates before him.
And of course, dishing out the best handshakes on the team.
“I think it makes the introductions a little more fun, gets people more excited, more adrenaline going,” Beach said.
Bakamus agreed. That’s why he started doing introductory handshakes with Kevin Pangos and Gary Bell Jr. his freshman season.
“I just liked it because it made you feel involved and everyone has to go through you with a little bit of personal touch before the game,” Bakamus said.
Senior transfer Geno Crandall points to the routines as a unifying moment for teammates old and new.
“I think it is a cool thing between teammates, kind of solidifying that bond,” he said.
Crandall admits that he doesn’t have one with every player yet, but that most likely can be attributed to the effort it takes to come up with and execute the handshakes.
For example, Beach and Killian Tillie’s handshake includes six high fives, some high and some low, before pretending to walk away before coming back and then jumping up together.
Imagine having that sort of routine but needing to remember 14 others.
Beach fell into Bakamus’ spot two seasons ago. Bakamus has watched from afar, making sure his pupil is continuing the legacy.
“He has done a great job; he has filled my shoes and followed in my footsteps better than me, so give Jack Beach a lot of credit, especially for keeping it going,” Bakamus said.
Casual fans and hardcore fans might look at handshakes as meaningless in the grand scheme of the Zags’ success.
But to Bakamus and Beach, as well as their teammates, it allows the true nature of GU to shine through.
“I think it is all just part of the culture at Gonzaga,” Bakamus said. “It is a lot of fun, not super uptight. You can be loose as long as you take care of business on the court.”
And if fun pregame handshakes help take care of business on the court, then so be it.
“It is exciting; I am pretty sure everyone’s handshakes mean a little something, so when you get to do something cool, it is nice,” Zach Norvell Jr. said.
To Beach and Norvell, part of their handshake is a shout out to Bakamus’ hometown of Longview, Washington, which Bakamus designed two seasons ago with Norvell.
“(I) also liked mine with Zach Norvell, which Beach still does with him, where they throw up an ‘L’ for L-town because my hometown is Longview, so they pay their respects to my hometown and I like that,” Bakamus said.
For Norvell, his approach is usually something that is cool or different.
“Could be a movie you have seen together or something cool or probably corny, knowing us,” he said. “Anytime you just see something cool or unique, you just usually do it.”
Specifically for Beach, he has a process for designing his handshakes.
“You just kind of play around with it for a little with them, just start doing random stuff and see if it seems too much, too little, too weird,” Beach said. “Or just stuff people do before and take part of it and add something random to it.”
Beach and Clarke have instituted a Fortnite routine into their pregame handshake. It includes a part of the game in which an injured or downed player must be healed/revived by a teammate.
It all boils down to the exclusive relationship each player has with one another and their quirks, which are expressed through the special handshakes.
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