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Sports >  Gonzaga basketball

From (Double) Zero to 55: When it comes to Gonzaga men’s basketball history, these numbers add up to greatness

UPDATED: Wed., March 16, 2022

By John Blanchette For The Spokesman-Review

Richard Fox transferred to Gonzaga from the University of Colorado in 2001, sat out the next basketball season as the penance the NCAA exacted before the current portal free-for-all and readied himself to suit up for 2003.

He requested uniform No. 2 from Bulldogs coach Mark Few.

“The way I looked at it, I was transferring and it was a second opportunity,” he said. “Mark said that was ridiculous, that a big guy would have a single-digit number.”

Big guys – like the 6-foot-10 Fox – wore 50, his number at Colorado. Or 35, which had been given to Ronny Turiaf the year Fox arrived. Or 34, which he was eventually assigned.

Numbers at the bottom of the game program. The bass section. Tubas and sousaphones.

“I think it was two years later when Ronny switched his number to 1,” laughed Fox.

 (Molly Quinn / The Spokesman-Review)
(Molly Quinn / The Spokesman-Review)

And, with apologies to Jalen Suggs and his miracle shot to beat UCLA, Turiaf became the Bulldog most identified with that jersey number.

But what about the number 34? What about its lore?

“That story is right in front of you,” said Fox, unsheathing the needle. “That’s what you need to find out. What is it that’s compelling Chet Holmgren to want to honor Richard Fox by wearing his number in his one season at Gonzaga?”

•••

This story is brought to you by the number … well, by all the numbers.

OK, not all the numbers, exactly. Only the numbers from zero through 55 – and not even all of those, really. There are a few Gonzaga University never stitched on a basketball uniform – 19, 38, 47. One or two others.

And that’s only as far as can be determined. The archives – like a few of the won-lost records – are pretty sketchy about Zags basketball back in the 1930s and ’40s, when numerals first started appearing on the jerseys.

But you know how this goes. Numbers mean data – airtight or not – and data exists to be turned into lists, and lists only matter in the context of sports if something is being ranked and the words “best of” or “best ever” can be attached.

In this case, it’s a laundry list: Zags by the numbers.

The best Zags? Well, maybe. How do you decide? Really, how do you make a call between Dan Dickau and Rui Hachimura, who both wore No. 21, were Players of the Year in the West Coast Conference and consensus All-Americans? By NBA draft position? Sorry, no.

 (Molly Quinn / The Spokesman-Review)
(Molly Quinn / The Spokesman-Review)

So, yes, there’s a cop-out at No. 21.

Tougher, sometimes, was deciding on which number to attach to which name. Number choices have been fluid over the years, and several Zags played with distinction in multiple jerseys. Rob Sacre, for instance, wore No. 21 for two years, then asked for 00.

“Twenty-one was Dan’s number,” Sacre said. “It was my number in high school and it wasn’t taken at the time. But I didn’t play my first year, because I was a freshman, and then I broke my foot so I thought I might need a change. And, respectfully, it was Dan’s.

“Hyman Taylor at San Francisco was wearing No. 0 and I liked that, but I thought, why not a double zero for a double dose of this hero?”

Well, it made for an easy choice for this exercise: Only Sacre has worn No. 00.

Later, teammate Steven Gray swapped out his No. 32 after three seasons for 41 – for a fresh start, he explained (“I think he just wanted to screw with people,” Sacre countered). Turiaf, Don Baldwin, Stew Morrill, Greg Sten – all-league players all – also switched. For the most part, they’ve been assigned the numbers they wore as seniors, which didn’t necessarily make choices easier.

Well back in the day, players were issued two different numbers – like, say, 14 and 15 – to wear at home and on the road, respectively. Since TV games didn’t exist to expose the road unis to home fans, they’ve been excised from this list.

And, of course, some numbers were much more popular than others. Productive, too.

•••

The No. 24 wasn’t worn with any particular statistical distinction in the first decade it was assigned at GU. Then Elmer Deschaine, a Connecticut transplant via junior college in Boise, averaged 16.7 points in 1964 in a potent lineup that averaged 81 a game. Another decade or so later, Jim DeWeese became an All-Big Sky player wearing the number.

Bryce McPhee arrived with the recruiting class of 1980 that included John Stockton, but while he wore No. 24 in high school, Ken Anderson – now dean of GU’s school of business administration – already had dibs. When he graduated, McPhee asked to abandon his freshman-year No 13.

And started a run of five No. 24s who now reside on Gonzaga’s 1,000-point list.

Even before he signed his letter of intent, McPhee’s brother, Jim, had one request of Coach Dan Fitzgerald.

“The last thing I said on the recruiting visit was, ‘Can I have 24?’ ” he remembered. “It was Bryce’s number, and he was my idol. I did the same thing in high school. He’s still my favorite Zag.”

Jim McPhee’s 2,015 points left him 101 short of the school’s career record. When he graduated, the number was willed to Jarrod Davis – another tribute, though not to either McPhee.

“My sister, Jennifer, is a year older and was a really good player in high school,” he said. “She chose not to play in college, so I wore it to honor her a little bit.”

In his wake came Jon Kinloch, who was happy that Davis’ graduation had made his old high school number available.

“But I knew its history at Gonzaga,” Kinloch said. “I knew Jim had worn it, and Jarrod had it when I redshirted. I think when you get a number, there’s some awareness of the guys who came before you. And after the fact, it was fun to see the different guys who wore it – some great, great players.”

Like Richie Frahm, the sharpshooter on the 1999 Elite Eight team that lit the Gonzaga fuse in Spokane. And gigantic Przemek Karnowski, who somehow wrested it away from all the shooting guards. And, finally, Corey Kispert, who wore it for all but one of his 137 Gonzaga games – donning No. 53 for a road game his junior year at Santa Clara after the death of Kobe Bryant, who had worn 24 in the latter part of his NBA career.

•••

Putting Kispert at 53 would have narrowed down the logjam at 24, but that’s cheating. Technically, subjectivity isn’t, so that became the handiest tool.

Some standard guidelines for the picks: longevity over one-and-done (see No. 34), but All-American status over length of service (No. 5). Fan appeal can carry as much weight as honors won … sometimes. Few Bulldogs have ever been as popular – and Zaggish – as David Pendergraft, but Jim Grady wore No. 25, too, and not only was he an all-league player but remains the only Bulldog to lead the team in scoring, rebounding and assists in a season.

The two fully retired jerseys – Nos. 12 and 44 – and the still-in-use-but-immortalized No. 3 were all but grandfathered in. And old-schoolers Rich Evans (7) and Jerry Vermillion (36) should have their numbers retired, if only the NCAA hadn’t taken them out of circulation by rule years ago.

And, of course, the list is subject to future revision.

Especially if Chet Holmgren confesses that his number choice is indeed a tribute to Richard Fox.

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