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Gonzaga Basketball

Gonzaga head coach Mark Few receives ‘great reminder’ of life as an assistant with Team USA

Mark Few was a couple of weeks into his seasonal job with USA Basketball last summer when he started to notice some unusual elbow soreness.

The longtime Gonzaga coach mentioned it in passing while conversing with a couple of his high-profile colleagues – the Miami Heat’s Erik Spoelstra and the Los Angeles’ Clippers Tyronn Lue.

It turned out Few wasn’t alone.

Coming off his 25th season at Gonzaga, Few hasn’t known life as a full-time assistant coach since his final year on Dan Monson’s staff at Gonzaga in 1999. He quickly became reacquainted last summer while serving under the Golden State Warriors’ Steve Kerr during Team USA’s stay at the FIBA World Cup.

Though it comes with decidedly less pressure than the job he has had in Spokane for more than two decades, Few has learned it can be more demanding in other ways.

“We don’t have a bunch of grad aids, so we end up working the dudes out after the game,” Few said. “I remember last year like two or three weeks in, we were all like, came into one of the meetings and we were all like, ‘God, does your elbow hurt? Mine’s killing me.’ It’s just from doing all of this (passing motion). I don’t do that here. Sit here and rep out passes to our guys, chase down rebounds or whatever. It’s been interesting.

“I didn’t need to go back to appreciate all the assistants do (at Gonzaga), but it was a great reminder of what you end up doing all the time.”

Before returning to what many observers project will be a top-10 team at Gonzaga next season, Few is happy to get in some more grunt work and put in some more elbow grease – literally, in some cases – as an assistant. This summer he’ll be firing passes to the likes of LeBron James and Kevin Durant and chasing rebounds for Steph Curry and Jayson Tatum as the Olympic team prepares for a slate of games against elite international competition in Paris.

Few’s position with Team USA combines many of the duties his assistants at GU hold during the college season and a number of the smaller tasks he would normally assign to his student assistants and grad aids.

He was on regular phone calls with Kerr, Lue, Spoelstra and managing director Grant Hill providing occasional feedback as Team USA assembled its 12-man roster.

Over the past two to three weeks, Few split time overseeing summer workouts and handling other obligations at Gonzaga while preparing scouting reports for Team USA’s upcoming exhibition games against Canada, Australia, Serbia, South Sudan and Germany.

Once the competition gets rolling later this month, Few will lend insight from the bench, offer opinions and provide the type of support GU’s coach is accustomed to receiving from assistants Brian Michaelson, Stephen Gentry and Rjay Barsh.

He will arrive early and stay after to guide players through pregame and postgame workouts.

“We share them all,” Few said of the staff’s responsibilities. “That’s the interesting thing. It’s been fun to kind of go back to being an assistant. ‘Spo’ and Ty and myself, we all split up the scouts and do it just like we do it here at Gonzaga.”

It’s common for the Olympic team to hold one staff position for an active college coach. Previously, the spot was held by Jay Wright, a two-time national champion at Villanova before retiring in 2022. Before Wright, another one of Few’s close friends in the coaching world, Syracuse’s Jim Boeheim, was the lone college coach on the Team USA staff.

“The interesting thing is the FIBA game is more like the college game than it is the pro game,” Few said. “So I think they are very open and interested always and that’s probably what makes them so special is they are great listeners, all of them, and open-minded.

“So we are able to share a bunch of great thoughts on what we should do and how we should play and all that.”

Few’s experience recruiting and coaching international talent at Gonzaga should help Team USA, particularly if certain matchups arise in group stage play or medal rounds. The Olympic team is guaranteed one matchup against one of Few’s former players, Serbia’s Filip Petrusev, and could face a handful of others throughout the tournament.

Japan’s Rui Hachimura and the Canadian duo of Kelly Olynyk and Andrew Nembhard are representing teams that have clinched Olympic spots. Other ex-Zags such as Lithuania’s Domantas Sabonis and the Dominican Republic’s Angel Nunez are participating in the Olympic Qualifying Tournament.

“I think it just shows the level of where the program is,” Few said.

For the next two months, Few will dedicate most of his attention to the pursuit of a gold medal, but he anticipates daily check-ins – be it text messages or phone calls – with his staff in Spokane.

“They step up in a huge way. They’re ready for that,” Few said. “The beauty of our staff is we’ve got guys with tons of experience. You think about how long (Brian Michaelson’s) been here. It’s actually good for them, it’s great for them to kind of assume that responsibility and take it on.”

Few’s association helps Gonzaga from an exposure standpoint, but it is valuable in other ways. Few will return home in mid to late August with fresh material, different ideas and new concepts for his college program after spending time on a daily basis with three coaches who have seven NBA titles on their resume and 11 players who made the 2024 NBA All-Star Game.

“We incorporated some stuff last year whether it’s offensive actions or defensive actions or just maybe approaches to film sessions and everything,” Few said. “Like I said, you get us all together in a group, it’s a great learning environment for all of us, I think.”

Few considers the opportunity, “the highest calling you can have as a college coach,” and described himself as a longtime follower of the Summer Olympics, pointing to his upbringing in the Eugene, area that’s become a hotbed for Olympians – particularly those competing in track and field.

“Back when I grew up there was three stations,” Few said. “CBS, NBC and ABC. You didn’t have ESPN. So when the Olympics were on, that was like the coolest thing ever. You’re just glued to the television, it didn’t matter what they were covering. It was must-see, you just didn’t miss it, and it was such an awesome time whenever those summers would come around, when they were on and you weren’t overindulged from all this other stuff like we are now.”