Preparation ties them together: High-scoring Jim McPhee, Drew Timme’s next target, still lives by Gonzaga code
Jan. 26, 2023 Updated Fri., Jan. 27, 2023 at 11:01 a.m.
Jim McPhee, seen at McCarthey Athletic Center on Jan. 19, ranks second on Gonzaga’s all-time scoring list with 2,015 points. (Tyler Tjomsland/The Spokesman-Review)
A hand-written message can be found on every paper that Jim McPhee handles during the course of his practice of law:
“Lace ’em up tight – DJF”
It was the last thing his old Gonzaga basketball coach Dan Fitzgerald used to say to his team before sending the players onto the floor for a game.
For McPhee, 55, it’s still a daily exhortation : Be fully prepared for the next challenge, master even the smallest details and go at it with everything you’ve got.
It’s also a testament to the lasting influence that a good coach – those indelible life-shapers and path-guiders – can have on their athletes.
We visit with the managing partner in the Spokane firm of Witherspoon Brajcich McPhee because this James A. McPhee, Esq., was once a dead-eye shooter and cold-blooded scorer who filled up the stats sheets to such an extent that only one player in Gonzaga history compiled more points.
At his present rate, GU senior post, All-American Drew Timme, soon will pass McPhee’s total of 2,015 (in 118 games, same as Timme) on his way toward all-time leader Frank Burgess (2,196 in just 78 games). Timme sits at 1,984.
“People ask about him passing me,” McPhee said. “At its core, it’s talking about a Zag who is having success. How great is that?”
The raw point total doesn’t fully capture McPhee’s game. A 6-foot-5 wing, McPhee shot 55.6% from the field and 45.6 from beyond the 3-point arc. His per-game average of 17.1 over four seasons is slightly higher than Timme’s 16.8.
At the point of making comparisons, McPhee quickly adds that “our preseason schedule looked a little different … Montana Tech and those guys.”
No question that the 21st century Zags play elite competition. Still, to look back at McPhee’s game log is to see how he fared his senior season in three games against nationally ranked Loyola Marymount – the highest-scoring team in the country.
McPhee and the Zags lost all three to the powerful Lions, but McPhee’s point totals of 42, 42 and 32 outscored each of LMU’s two All-Americans, Hank Gathers and Bo Kimble. On the night after the West Coast Conference Tournament opener against the Zags, Gathers died of heart failure.
McPhee’s teammate, Mike Winger, called him “relentless in terms of his work ethic,” and “it wasn’t just his shooting from the 3-point line, but his ability to score, taking it to the basket, and his elbow-jumper was the thing that was really hard to stop.”
Another Winger assessment seemed especially powerful, raising the possibility that McPhee was one of the 20th century predecessors who could have played with the star-studded modern iterations of Zags.
“Even in today’s world, he’d be someone you would want on your team,” Winger said.
McPhee was a familiar name when Jim arrived, as his brother Bryce scored 1,025 points, ending his Zags career in 1985.
“I got to grow up with my idol,” Jim McPhee said. “He’s still my favorite Zag of all time. He had a work ethic and intensity that I tried to emulate.”
Fitzgerald, at the time, was trying to build the program with hard-nosed players who often were overlooked by higher-profile schools. Basketball was a tough sell in Spokane at the time, but not to McPhee.
“For me, it was the highest level of basketball I’d ever played, so, not knowing any other programs, it’s not like I compared it with anything else, or thought about what we didn’t have,” McPhee said.
McPhee’s timing was just a bit off to enjoy great team success, as he played on the last Gonzaga basketball to have a losing record (8-20 in 1989-90). They advanced the next season to 14-14 and in two seasons had 20 wins.
McPhee’s senior season, Fitzgerald redshirted the talent that was to be the foundation of their first postseason exposure.
“(That) redshirt team came out to kill us in practice, and a lot of times they did,” McPhee said. “They were really cohesive and good guys.”
Much of the credit, he said, goes to assistants Dan Monson and the newest grad assistant, Mark Few.
“Fitz gave those guys a long leash,” McPhee said. “What they did was assemble that redshirt team by turning over stones, (getting) guys who maybe got passed over with scholarships.”
Few, of course, took over as head coach in 2000 and led the Zags to 21 consecutive NCAA Tournament bids.
“The things I remember about (the young Few) was that I was in the gym all the time, late at night, whenever, and so was he. Great effort … you never questioned the work ethic of Mark Few or Dan Monson.”
McPhee earned a cum laude degree from Gonzaga Law School in 1996.
“People ask what I take from sports to the practice of law, and I say time management and disciple are the big ones, but what also satisfies is that it’s something I can get better at every day until I retire.”
McPhee doesn’t play basketball anymore, but he has embraced something else he learned under Fitzgerald.
“Fitz used to make us do a 10-mile (run) every year … more a lesson of pain tolerance than anything else,” he said. “I started doing marathons and ultramarathons. The last thing I did was the Grand Canyon from the north rim, down inside and out the south rim.”
Not long after Fitzgerald died in 2010, McPhee was among those who established The Dan Fitzgerald Memorial Basketball Tournament (“The Fitz”) to honor the coach’s charitable nature. Eight high school boys and girls teams meet to benefit local charities.
When not racing through canyons and practicing law, McPhee follows and supports GU basketball. He admires Timme’s play, but said he hasn’t talked to him, “maybe just in passing, but not more than that.”
“The young guys are gracious, but, I mean, what would that be like, ‘Hi, I’m Jim McPhee, I played basketball in the last century?’ ”
Oh, it seems this star from the previous century would have a great deal to pass on to current Zags – things about basketball, and life after basketball, and the laces that hold them all together.
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