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Adam Morrison: With this Gonzaga team, you realize something bigger is at play

UPDATED: Sun., March 17, 2019, 11:28 p.m.

By Adam Morrison For The Spokesman-Review

The magnitude of the moment is what matters the most.

Yes, the games absolutely matter, but I’m talking about something different, something more meaningful.

As this Gonzaga team begins its postseason journey, there are lessons I wish I had better understood as a young player. It’s those lessons that I hope to see this team embrace.

Your time as a collegiate athlete is special, but what you realize – sometimes years after all of it is over – is just how short it really is. Winning is fantastic. Getting individual honors and acclaim is fine. But what truly matters is your team.

The things you will ultimately cherish are those moments when you are alone with your team on the plane, on the bus, your time in the locker room, and all of your preparation together for the games. It’s those things that nobody else gets to see or experience, and those are the things you’ll come to miss when you get older. Because those were the things that mattered.

This year’s team is one of the better and more well-balanced teams that we’ve ever had here at Gonzaga.

Related: Gonzaga lands No. 1 seed in NCAA Tournament, ‘validation’ for season-long performance

Everyone who sees this team play at its highest levels knows it has all the makings of a legitimate Final Four team. It has what it needs to make a national championship run. They have athleticism, they have depth, they have shooting, they have great point-guard play, they have rim protection, they even have potential lottery picks.

This team has the tools for this year to be the culmination of something many in our community have been hoping for since all of this magic first began. There was a time when where Gonzaga is right now was nothing more than a pipe dream.

But there’s something else, something just as important – if not more important – than just having the right tools on a team.

When you’re around this year’s team as much as I have been, you notice camaraderie and chemistry. It’s that sense of team and friendship that I’ve been the most impressed with. You see the selflessness that these players have shown throughout their careers, but especially this year, and you see this intangible that elevates the good to great, and the great to champions.

Few people know just how hard it is to get talented, young athletes of this age to play together the way these guys do. It’s hard to get players at this level to buy into a system like this - especially one that values the team over the individual. That takes great coaching and great culture, but what it also takes is a group of guys willing to take those sensibilities out on the court in each and every game, and live them in every play and every pass.

When you watch them play night in and night out, it’s not just what you see, but what you don’t see that is the most important. You never see our guys roll their eyes at another teammate. You never see one of these guys not make that extra pass. You don’t see these guys take a shot when someone else has a chance for a better one.

When a guy goes to the floor, watch how the entire team goes to help pick him up. They always huddle at the free-throw line. You always see them congratulate each other when they come off the floor.

When our walk-ons come into the game, the entire bench is up and cheering.

These are the signs of a real team. Individually, they don’t seem like big things. But taken together – game after game after game – you realize something bigger is at play.

And when it’s all over, these are the things they’ll miss. The brotherhood of a real team is powerful, and it’s something you can’t duplicate once you’re done. The relationships forged in that locker room are once-in-a-lifetime experiences.

When you see a group that has that spark, you not only miss it a little bit, you actually envy it a bit. I love watching these guys play and feeling that envy of being with my own team.

Their bond makes me want to go back in time, put on that Gonzaga jersey again, and go to war with my group of brothers who had the same mindset and goals that I had … the same goals this year’s team has.

The best advice I have for this year’s team will sound like a cliché, but it’s also the truth: Cherish every moment, because it goes by so quickly. Soak it all up. Go out there with the purpose of knowing that Gonzaga belongs at this stature. Gonzaga belongs at this level of national attention.

My high school coach used to always say, “Go take what is yours.”

That is absolutely true with this team. These guys have earned that No. 1 seed. They earned that No. 1 ranking. They have earned the respect of the nation.

Now is the time to do it. Go out there with your brothers and take what you deserve.

Just remember to embrace every single second as you do it. There’s a real-world example of this from my own life.

During my sophomore year in 2005, I remember so vividly our team losing the Texas Tech game after being ahead and us not moving on to the Sweet 16. Obviously, like everyone on our team, I was upset that we lost, but the bigger realization that didn’t hit me until later was that I was never going to play another basketball game with Ronny Turiaf.

I didn’t understand the magnitude of the moment.

When you think back at what Ronny gave our program, building the foundation for so many of these other great foreign players to want to come be a part of Gonzaga, and to see how deep Ronny’s emotional ties were to this university, and what it meant to him to be here and be a part of this team, it’s clear that the younger version of myself didn’t understand or appreciate what those relationships really meant to me as our team began its NCAA run.

Once you realize this is the last time you’re going to get to play with someone you care for and respect so much – and with someone who you have been through so many battles with – then you care for and appreciate them in a different way. You care for that game in a different way.

It’s not that I wasn’t focused or prepared, it’s that I didn’t understand all of the emotional parts of being on that team that I treasure now. I didn’t understand the power of it all until it was gone. The stakes were higher than just winning or losing.

I don’t want that to happen to any of the members of this year’s team. I also don’t think it will.

It’s the one thing that’s been clear all season, even when things haven’t gone as we might have hoped: These guys are a true team.

And when a group of guys has that, it’s often because the magnitude of the moment is what matters the most to them.


Editor’s Note: Adam Morrison was the NCAA’s scoring leader and the co-winner of the Oscar Robertson Trophy his final season at Gonzaga in 2005-06. He’s currently a commentator on GU radio broadcasts.

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