SAN DIEGO – Mark Few saw tremendous teamwork, dedication and precise execution.
Yes, his team displayed some of those traits digging out a 64-63 win over Michigan State in the Armed Forces Classic, but the Zags coach was referring to the hours he spent over the past two days with the service men and women on the USS Abraham Lincoln, which provided a spectacular setting for Friday’s game.
“The level of commitment,” said Few, who joined his players and staff for a tour of the aircraft carrier on Thursday. “Until you’re here and meet them and hear Captain Amy (Bauernschmidt) explain it, these guys just got done after doing I think 228 straight days (of deployment).
“I mean, seriously? These guys (GU players) complain if I make them practice four straight days. The level of commitment and accountability is extraordinary. It’s so humbling. I’ll remember this experience the rest of my life.”
So will Gonzaga’s players, their parents and the school administrators who witnessed a hard-fought game played out on a temporary court on the flight deck of the aircraft carrier that is usually home to 40-plus aircraft.
“I think the best part was the excitement we brought to them, and also the excitement they brought to us,” Zags senior forward Anton Watson said. “We didn’t know what to expect when we got on the boat. I don’t really like boats, but this was a super-cool experience and I just tried to soak it all in.”
“We’ve been fortunate enough for the last couple days to be escorted by a couple of sailors that have been remarkable in terms of expressing their gratitude,” Gonzaga Athletic Director Chris Standiford said. “It’s like, the gratitude is the other way around.”
Matt Gregg, father of Gonzaga forward Ben Gregg and head coach of the Warner Pacific women’s basketball team, was among the 3,572 in attendance. His team had a game versus Puget Sound on Friday, but Gregg decided to leave the coaching duties to his assistants.
“You can’t preach family first if you’re not going to actually say, ‘I gotta go see my family,’ ” Gregg said. “In my 15 years, I missed two games – for the (2021) Final Four in Indianapolis and this one.”
After Thursday’s tour of the USS Abraham Lincoln, Ben texted his parents: “This is crazy, man.”
Senior guard Rasir Bolton and his father Ray had similar reactions.
“It was awe-inspiring, just the magnitude of the ship and the moment,” Ray said. “ ‘Ras’ was amazed how tight the quarters are. He has an uncle in the Navy who is a big gentleman. He called him and said, ‘How in the world do you fit in these ships?’ ”
Drew Timme’s parents, Matt and Megan, flew to San Diego early Friday morning and sat with daughter Kendall and Megan’s father a few rows behind Gonzaga’s bench. After scaling several sets of stairs, they were blown away when they reached the flight deck and first set eyes on the court and backdrop across the bay of downtown San Diego.
“It’s absolutely amazing and breathtaking to be part of something like this, especially on Veterans Day and pay homage to the troops that support us,” Matt said. “This is fantastic.”
The Timmes, like the players and coaches, repeatedly checked on the weather conditions leading up to Friday. It turned out to be mostly sunny, temperatures in the mid-60s with light winds.
“I was even watching the flags on the ship when we pulled up (to park),” Megan said.
Former GU Athletic Director Mike Roth made it a habit to watch games from tunnels adjacent to the court so he could pace and expend nervous energy. That wasn’t possible Friday with the confined space surrounding the court.
For the first time since 1999, Roth sat in the stands to watch a Zags game.
“It was an experience that I haven’t had in a lot of years,” Roth said. “I don’t know if I want to get used to that. I kind of like the ability to get up and walk around, but wow, what a game.”
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