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Gonzaga Basketball

‘They’re the new Duke’: ESPN’s Sean Farnham takes a break between flatbreads to heap praise on Gonzaga

By Justin Reed The Spokesman-Review

ESPN’s Sean Farnham has embraced Spokane as his second home while calling Gonzaga basketball games.

Born and raised in California, Farnham says he’s found comfort in a community that not also appreciates basketball X’s and O’s, but also philanthropy. A comfy pillowtop bed at the Davenport doesn’t hurt, either.

Farnham, in Spokane last weekend calling the GU-Saint Mary’s game on Saturday, spent his Friday night at the Davenport Tower serving his now-famous “Farnham Flatbread” as part of an ESPN Coaches vs. Cancer event. Almost a year ago, the Davenport Tower officially named its spicy shrimp flatbread after the commentator.

“(Spokane) is 100% one of my favorite places to go to, I have no problem saying that,” Farnham said.

Officially hired in 2010 at ESPN, Farnham has become one of the most recognizable voices for Gonzaga games. For Farnham, the chance to come to the Kennel several times each year for more than a decade has offered a unique view of the Bulldogs’ climb to being a perennial No. 1 team.

“They didn’t cheat the system,” Farnham said. “They incrementally built upon their success that they had. They didn’t look for the quick fix, and they embraced who they are, and they never apologized for it.

“Mark Few has built this program on family, on balance and on an understanding of exactly who he is, and he recruits to who he is regardless of who’s on his staff. And subsequently, the (GU) culture maintains.”

A former high school basketball standout, Farnham was a preferred walk-on at UCLA in 1996-2000. After college, he chased a broadcasting career, taking the 2003 season off to help direct Pepperdine to a 22-9 record as an assistant coach.

Spokane played host to Farnham’s first game as an ESPN analyst on Nov. 16, 2010. Gonzaga lost 79-76 to Kawhi Leonard and San Diego State that night – at the time it was just GU’s fifth loss in the McCarthey Athletic Center.

Returning from a TV timeout during the first half of that game, Farnham talked about how successful the Zags had been since 1998.

“It has been a decade of dominance, for Mark Few and the Bulldogs and there’s no signs of it slowing down,” Farnham said.

Twelve years later, Gonzaga has gone 358-54.

His second trip to Spokane came later in the 2010-11 season and was another Gonzaga loss, punctuated when Saint Mary’s Mickey McConnell dipped around Rob Sacre to drain the game-winner. It was the Gaels’ first win in Spokane since 1995.

“Sorry Rob,” Farnham quipped.

At the time, it didn’t help Farnham’s popularity around these parts.

“For a while there, I think people up here were like, ‘He doesn’t like us,’ and I was like, ‘No, I love you guys,’ ” Farnham said. “I’m paid to call a game like I don’t work for the local station, I work for a national audience. And I’m trying to showcase what Gonzaga basketball is to a wider audience.”

Farnham said there are sections of the country and groups of fans who don’t know how unique Chet Holmgren is or how fleet the feet of Drew Timme are, or how Andrew Nembhard always finds the soft spot in an opposing zone.

“It’s my responsibility to make sure that I feed that base as much as I feed the passionate, crazy fan base that resides up here in Spokane,” he said.

Since 2010, Farnham has called dozens of GU matchups, seeing four-straight second weekend NCAA Tournament exits and six-straight Sweet-16 appearances along the way. With top recruiting classes supplementing the already strong international signings, four-year guys and transfers, Farnham expects Mark Few and the Zags to continue to build on their laurels of the 21st century.

“I don’t say this lightly – they are the new Duke. They’re the new Duke,” Farnham said. “With Coach K (Krzyzewski) retiring, Gonzaga has the potential to be the small school that accomplishes amazing things.”

Farnham said the Twitter warriors who soapbox against the Zags fail to see how they have elbowed their way into the blue-blood club.

“Those people that are writing (those tweets) fail to realize they’ve won more NCAA Tournament games than any team in the country in the last 10 years, they’ve had more wins than anybody in the country in the last 10 years, their record against Power Five conference teams is better than anyone else’s in the last 10 years. This is a dominating program.”

Farnham says GU’s ability to develop talent has been the key.

“I think if there’s one aspect that has never been appreciated by many outside of Spokane, it is the player development of Mark Few and his staff,” Farnham said. “They do such a tremendous job building their players and putting them in the best situation to be successful.”

Take Kelly Olynyk, he says. Olynyk went from riding the bench his freshman and sophomore seasons at GU to being the 13th overall pick in 2013 and earning millions in his NBA career.

Farnham sees similarities with top-tier talents like Strawther, Hunter Sallis and Nolan Hickman – all potential lottery picks, he says. Farnham said Strawther’s leap from a season ago amazes him.

Farnham also points to Gonzaga’s ability to find perfect-fitting transfers, players like Nigel Williams-Goss and Rasir Bolton.

“(Potential Zags) see it as an opportunity to be on ESPN as much as any team in the country,” Farnham said. “You’re going to be ranked in the top five, all year long, you’re going to have a chance to win a national championship.

“And all of those things bode really, really well for this program, not just now, but moving forward.”