ANAHEIM – Gonzaga’s national popularity has been trending upward this past week, both in basketball and non-basketball circles.
Many of those who didn’t know about Spokane’s small, Jesuit university nine days ago are in the loop now.
Others are still skeptical of its existence.
As Gonzaga’s top-seeded basketball team marches through March Madness, the university has been a popular punch line for television host Jimmy Kimmel and his late-night talk show, “Jimmy Kimmel Live!”
Kimmel initially questioned Gonzaga’s legitimacy during a monologue March 19, two days before the Bulldogs opened up the NCAA Tournament against Fairleigh Dickinson.
“I have a theory. I know this might be controversial but here it is: I don’t believe Gonzaga exists,” Kimmel said. “I have never heard the word Gonzaga outside of college basketball. I don’t know where it is, I don’t know anyone who went there, I don’t even know anyone who knows anyone who went there.”
Gonzaga’s validity has been a recurring segment on “Jimmy Kimmel Live!” throughout the tournament, and with the Bulldogs stationed about 35 miles south of his Hollywood-based studio, Kimmel shipped cast member and sidekick Guillermo Rodriguez to the Honda Center on Wednesday to interview GU players one day before the Sweet 16.
Rodriguez, trailed by ABC cameras and producers, was a stirring presence in the Bulldogs’ locker room Wednesday, at times attracting more of a media scrum than standout players like Brandon Clarke and Rui Hachimura.
“It was cool, man,” said forward Killian Tillie, one of the players cornered by Rodriguez. “I’ve seen him on TV for a long time, pretty cool to see him here.”
Rodriguez often pops up at national sporting events such as the Super Bowl and the NBA Finals, interviewing star athletes with his unconventional questioning for comedy bits used in Kimmel’s show.
At the Super Bowl, he asked the New England Patriots’ Tom Brady to autograph a pillow with the quarterback’s face printed on it. A frequent segment of ABC’s coverage of the NBA Finals has been Rodriguez’s quest to get All-Star forward LeBron James to talk to him – typically without any success.
Outfitted in a Sherlock Holmes costume Wednesday, Rodriguez, wielding a tobacco pipe and a magnifying glass, stopped by the lockers of recognizable Bulldog players to quiz them about Kimmel’s hypothesis.
“He was trying to figure out if we were a real school or not. He was asking questions about if we were getting paid to say Gonzaga’s real,” freshman forward Filip Petrusev said. “You saw his costume, he was just trying to figure out if we were real or not.”
Gonzaga law students made a cameo on Kimmel’s show earlier in the week, and the Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson swore under oath to convince the TV host of the school’s reality.
Another amusing skit featuring a replica version of school mascot Spike aired on the show Tuesday night. Kimmel said the Bulldogs’ mascot is “generic,” citing that as one of the many reasons he’s been leery of the university’s existence.
Spokane Valley company Zome Design has been printing T-shirts this week with the script “#GonzagaExists.”
“It’s a real place, these are all real people in here,” senior point guard Geno Crandall told Rodriguez. “Besides Josh (Perkins). He’s a weirdo.”
At one point, Perkins borrowed Rodriguez’s hat, fitting it over his own head. During an interview with Clarke, Rodriguez asked the Zags’ big man to sign an “imaginary basketball” with an “imaginary pen.”
“Gonzaga’s fake, right?” Rodriguez then posed to Clarke.
“No man, we’re actually real,” the player responded. “I think we’ve been around for 100 years, if not more, so we’re for real.”
“How much do they pay you to go along with this lie?” Rodriguz said.
“Zero dollars,” Clarke answered.
“How did they make it a real school? Is it imaginary? Or CGI?” Rodriguez followed, referencing a special visual effect dubbed computer-generated imagery.
“Umm, honestly, you might have to ask coach (Mark) Few about that one,” Clarke answered. “He’s been here for like 20 years.”
Rodriguez went around the locker room instructing players on how to perform “the Gonzaga handshake,” a gesture Tillie taught him during the early portion of the interview.
“Different kind of questions,” Tillie said, “but it was fun to have that.”
Players didn’t appear to be distracted by Rodriguez and the circus that seemed to follow him through GU’s dressing room for almost 30 minutes. Nor were they bothered by Kimmel’s presumption about the university’s nonexistence.
“I find it funny,” Petrusev said. “It’s a national show and it can just help. I wouldn’t say it’s a bad thing.”
Rodriguez’s report from the Honda Center aired late Wednesday on “Jimmy Kimmel Live!” on ABC.
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