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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Zags fans mingle with players at ‘Friends of Spike’ NBA draft party in honor of Holmgren, Nembhard

By Julien A. Luebbers The Spokesman-Review

No-Li Brewhouse was packed with athletes, fans and members of the broader Spokane community on Thursday afternoon for a celebration of the NBA draft, in which Gonzaga basketball stars Chet Holmgren and Andrew Nembhard were set to find spots among the world’s greatest basketball players.

The event was organized by Friends of Spike, an independent organization run by two former Gonzaga athletes – basketball standouts Matt Santangelo and Shaniqua Nilles – to support athletes in handling their name, image and likeness. The party also featured a pop-up from It’s 4AM Somewhere, a local clothing store with strong ties to GU basketball and started by Christian Jones, brother of team alum Jeremy Jones.

Santangelo described Friends of Spike as “that connecting fiber that allows greater access, greater creativity and more opportunity for these athletes to engage with this community,” and the draft watch party was an example. The public event was attended by nearly every member of the current Gonzaga men’s basketball roster.

No-Li hosted the event for free, inviting the public to sit alongside the Zags in their newly constructed Bier Hall.

“We love trying to uphold the greatness of Spokane with the community,” No-Li owner John Bryant said.

“It’s just a testament to the culture and coach (Mark) Few, just the love that the community has,” Christian Jones said of the event. “The culture is not like this anywhere else; this is truly a special place.”

Before the draft began, the Zags mingled among the community, introducing themselves to sometimes starstruck fans.

“We’re honored that they actually came over to our table and introduced themselves,” said Dan Browne, who came to No-Li with friend Bob Behrens to watch the draft, not expecting to meet many of the players.

“I always follow the Zags,” Behrens added, explaining that he enjoys watching as they extend their careers in the NBA. He was excited to see what would happen with Holmgren and Nembhard.

When at last the draft began, the Bier Hall went silent, and all eyes turned to the large screen to hear Orlando’s pick. When the name wasn’t Chet Holmgren, there was a disgruntled rumbling.

But the fans wouldn’t wait much longer as Holmgren was picked second by the Oklahoma city Thunder, the highest a Gonzaga player has been chosen. There was thunderous applause and smiles all around. Though hardly a surprise to any, it was nonetheless thrilling to see one of GU’s own attain such heights.

“To be completely honest, I thought Chet would go three,” said 2022 Gonzaga grad Griffin Emanuels. “He’s going two, and I’ve got a lot of faith in him.”

“OKC definitely got the steal, getting him at No. 2 ,” chimed in another 2022 grad, Griffin Stroyan.

The party was pleased with the draft’s first major result. It’s only a matter of time before they can see Holmgren back on their screens in the NBA, with the season starting in October.

Later in the evening, Nembhard was drafted by the Indiana Pacers, the first pick in the second round and 31st overall. He will join Arizona’s Bennedict Mathurin, who was drafted sixth by the Pacers.

It’s off to Oklahoma City for Holmgren and Indianapolis for Nembhard, but as Spokane waves goodbye , the team and fanbase could hardly be more excited.

For the Zags present, seeing Holmgren get drafted was more than just good fun; it was a reminder of the work they have ahead of them.

“It makes you want to work hard and make sure you get that same position,” said Malachi Smith, a recent GU roster addition.

Further motivation for the super-motivated, the draft left Zags inspired and ready to prove themselves worthy of these same accolades.

“All these guys put in hours at the gym, all the time working hard to see their dreams come true” forward Ben Gregg said. “Our whole team is capable of that for sure.”