PORTLAND – “Zags got dudes.”
The phrase has been adopted by the Gonzaga basketball community during the most successful run by the former Cinderella to remind the rest of the country that the Bulldogs do, in fact, have dudes.
Even if some college basketball factions turn a blind eye to the talent that Mark Few and his staff have gathered at the Jesuit university.
The first documented use of the expression was by college basketball insider Seth Davis, who tweeted it on Dec. 1, 2017, the night the Bulldogs thumped Creighton 91-74.
But for the first time since the inaugural idiom, the fathers of the men who earned a trip to the Sweet 16 with an 82-78 win over Memphis on Saturday crafted their own version the day before the round of 32 matchup.
At lunch on Friday, the Zags dads were out together, discussing the Georgia State first-round game, the upcoming Memphis game and other fatherly topics.
Breaking bread together were Deon Watson, Dave Holmgren, Ed Lang, Matt Timme, Claude Nembhard, Ray Bolton and Matt Gregg.
That’s when Watson, the former University of Idaho basketball star, spoke up and said that since their kids get recognized as the Zags dudes, shouldn’t the dads who helped mold them also get to make their own mark – a mark of pride for raising the ‘dudes’ on the court?
“Most of these dads, they either coached basketball or played basketball, so we all were talking about how influential we were in our kids’ basketball careers,” Watson said.
After some discussion, Watson came up with their new slogan.
And “Zags Got Dads” was born.
Watson also went on to say their basketball chops could still measure up their sons’. It is standard practice for dads to believe that, until they are proven wrong, but Gregg thinks that time has already passed them by.
“His idea was that he thinks we could ball against them, and I was like, ‘Let’s just go with the shirts,’ ” Gregg said.
Gregg, who got his start coaching at Freeman and Post Falls High Schools, had a connection who could make custom screenprinted shirts and overnight ship them to Portland.
His vendor followed through and by Saturday at 2 p.m., the Zags dads were sporting their new gear and were proudly flashing their shirts to anyone who would glance their way inside the Moda Center.
“It’s awesome right now, I mean this is what we really needed as a group,” Gregg said. “You know, the moms are all great, you know how moms are, they’re going to be connected. But the dads are kinda alphas, right?”
That alpha energy needed to be passed to their boys after an aggressive Memphis Tigers team smacked them around the final 10 minutes of the first half on Saturday. Drew Timme made sure to exude some of that vigor to his teammates in the locker room during halftime.
During the same 20-minute intermission, the dads in the crowd all had the same look etched on their faces – poignant and concern – as their team, their boys, were struggling against a talented squad.
Thirty seconds into the second half, Memphis’ Landers Nolley II made a jumper for the first points of the half. That put the Bulldogs down 12 and they found themselves staring down a first-weekend exit from the tournament for the first time since 2014.
“They did not quit, they did not quit,” Watson said. “That is what we tried to teach them in life and in general, never quit.”
A furious comeback led by Drew Timme’s acrobatics, Andrew Nembhard’s fleet feet, vision and free-throw shooting, and Rasir Bolton’s well-timed buckets made sure an early departure didn’t happen.
“I told Deon, if my kid was playing, I don’t even know how I would feel right now and he is like, ‘my heart is beating so fast,’” Gregg said.
“I was so excited, the will to win and the resiliency they showed tonight, that is the heart of a champion right there,” Watson said.
As the final horn sounded, the tense pressure built up inside was released as the dads rushed down, chests pumped out, toward the court to celebrate with their sons.
“Incredible man, just to be a part of the synergy, energy and the unity, we just want to show our guys that we are together, we support, and we are fighting with them,” Bolton said.
Both Bolton and Gregg confirmed that the night was just beginning.
As the dads were being ushered out of the arena, plans were being divulged on a need-to-know basis.
Their bonds with their boys on the basketball court now has extended to postgame beers with their buddies.
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