Rick Barnes was there. And Mike Montgomery and Bobby Cremins. Each one of them had a Final Four look on his file. Gary Williams and Jim Harrick each had NCAA championship rings. Steve Lavin, the UCLA coach, got here up from SoCal. ESPN’s Jay Bilas made the journey all the approach from North Carolina. Where have been they? A thousand miles from in all places, if we’ll be sincere.
Mark Few had been head coach at Gonzaga simply 4 years at that time. Gonzaga was a good little story in the world of school basketball. It was the mid-major program that had surprised everybody to succeed in the Elite Eight in 1999 after which, regardless of the departure of head coach Dan Monson for Minnesota, adopted that up with a couple of Sweet 16s.
People knew who Gonzaga was now, however in September 2003, they didn’t know what it could turn out to be. Only Few imagined that. We ought to have identified, although. Merely by wanting round that weekend — at the checklist of basketball dignitaries Few satisfied to wipe out a weekend from their late-summer schedules and spend as much as 5 hours on a airplane to be a half of a charity golf match and black-tie dinner to learn Coaches Vs. Cancer — we should always have had an thought what was in retailer.
Spending that weekend in Spokane, Wash., was like being given a tour of Steve Jobs’ storage in 1976. Except everybody acquired to remain at the Davenport and play the Coeur d’Alene Resort course.
“When a head coaching job would open up and I’d mention that he ought to consider it, he’d be sitting on his back porch and say, ‘I think I’m good,'” Bilas, who served as emcee at the dinner, instructed Sporting News. “I would tell him, ‘You could win it there.’ And he would say, ‘We can win it here.’ I didn’t believe that. It didn’t seem real. I think he was way ahead of everybody there.
“The imaginative and prescient of, ‘Hey, we could be No. 1 right here,’ that appeared loopy to me when he mentioned that.”
Saturday, Gonzaga will appear in its second NCAA Final Four, as the favorite to win its first national championship, carrying a perfect record into its semifinal game against UCLA. The Zags reached the No. 1 poll ranking for the first time in February 2013, earned their first No. 1 NCAA Tournament seed that March, played in their first NCAA championship game in 2017 and completed their first undefeated regular season with a comeback victory against BYU in the West Coast Conference title game last month.
Gonzaga has recruited McDonald’s All-Americans. It has produced NBA lottery picks. The team flies to road games using private aircraft. The team everyone now calls the Zags has become a major power in the sport. Anyone who refers to the program as a mid-major either doesn’t know the subject or is actively attempting to demean Gonzaga’s accomplishments.
This all was Mark Few’s vision. So often, though, someone who innovates in the way he has, who disrupts norms, is powered by an uncommon personality: gregarious, overbearing, insistent, irrationally demanding, perhaps even eccentric. Few could be your neighbor who works for an insurance broker. He’d be a star at his company, but he never would remind you of that.
“I had identified Mark when he was an assistant there,” Williams told SN. “Then when he acquired the head job, we stayed in contact. I believe the factor that appeals to a lot of folks is, he is such a good man. It’s real. I do not suppose there’s something phony about Mark Few.”
When Barnes was head coach at Clemson, he met Few at the 1997 Top of the World Classic in Fairbanks, Alaska, where the Zags and Tigers played in the championship game. Four years later, they met again in “The Last Frontier” at the Great Alaska Shootout. It’s a wonder they stayed friends, because the Zags won again.
Barnes agreed to make the trip to Spokane because of his respect for Mark and his wife, Marcy, and the work they were attempting to do to aid Coaches Vs. Cancer.
“Mark is one of these guys, when you meet him, he’s actual and genuine,” Barnes told SN. “He’s one of the actually good guys. He’s like all of us. He desires to win that final sport greater than anyone. We all try this.
“I kid him all the time because when people talk about how he plays tough non-league schedules, I tell him, ‘You should, because from January on, you don’t play anybody.'”
Jokes and taunts about the relative power of the West Coast Conference are one thing Few has chosen to endure, or ignore, as a result of it has allowed him to stay in the neighborhood the place he desires to reside teaching the program he desires to educate. He loves the outside way of life that’s accessible in the Pacific Northwest, specific fly fishing, and has some flexibility different profitable coaches do not as a result of the program’s success is tough to problem.
When the Zags reached the Elite Eight in 1999 and misplaced near eventual champion Connecticut, that was solely the second NCAA Tournament look, ever, for the Bulldogs.
Bill Grier was an assistant coach at Gonzaga then, having joined Few and Monson on Dan Fitzgerald’s workers in 1991. In his first season, the Bulldogs arrived at the West Coast Conference Tournament hoping to, for the first time, win a sport. One sport. They’d been in the league for six years, by no means completed it. It was a big deal to make the championship sport and lose to Doug Christie’s Pepperdine squad.
Monson took over in 1997, and the squad together with Casey Calvary, Richie Frahm and Matt Santangelo drove that preliminary Elite Eight run. As each different coach in his place would have (besides Few, clearly), Monson accepted a multimillion-dollar provide to turn out to be head coach at Minnesota.
Few was provided the probability to interchange Monson. By 2003, work already had begun on the McCarthey Athletic Center, which might exchange the previous “Kennel.” Even as a mid-major, the Zags had outgrown the 2,500-seat capability of what’s now generally known as the Charlotte Y. Martin Center. The McCarthey Center gave the Zags a first-rate dwelling court docket, and the capability of 6,000 meant the Zags remained a extremely in-demand ticket.
Few obtained tons of curiosity from big-time packages, even school basketball “blue bloods,” after these Sweet 16s. The names coming after him grew to become even grander as the success continued by means of the ’00s. Few hasn’t budged.
“He always had this vision. Why can’t we do this here?” Grier, now an assistant coach at Colorado, instructed SN. “He was the only one. He had a tremendous belief and conviction. What they’ve done now? No. I didn’t think it was possible. It’s crazy how far it’s come.”
Williams moved from American to Boston College to Ohio State as a result of that kind of climb made good sense, and it labored fantastically. He returned dwelling to Maryland as a result of it was his alma mater, and there he received the 2002 NCAA championship with the Terps and accomplished a Hall of Fame profession.
“A lot of times you think about that next job: Do I want to coach in the Pac-12? The Big Ten? Mark has found peace in being at Gonzaga, not just with the success but with his family, the lifestyle,” he mentioned. “It looks like he wants to see it through for his career. I think it would be great if he did that.”
Williams admires Few’s strategic flexibility, the willingness to search out an method that works finest with a specific group of gamers. With the 2020-21 Zags, who have two level guards (Jalen Suggs and Andrew Nembhard), two wings who can transfer and move (All-American Corey Kispert and Joel Ayayi) and a middle who has few talent limitations (Drew Timme), they’ve turn out to be a crew whose excellence begins with ball motion.
“You get so tired of seeing another screen-and-roll, and he doesn’t rely on that,” Williams mentioned. “He really gets guys involved, and you better move in his offense. You can tell: That’s one thing that really bothers Mark, if guys stand in his offense.
“Every man that is on the market, it doesn’t matter what he averages, is a passer. If a man is open, you higher get that man the ball. He appears to search out guys who have actual expertise and are prepared to play that type and possibly might go elsewhere and rating extra factors in the event that they needed to.”
Bilas sees that reflected in the number of former Gonzaga players who have remained in, or returned to, Spokane after their basketball careers were completed.
He says Zags basketball is “constructed on the similar foundation as any nice group is: It’s constructed on values and togetherness and onerous work. You’re not going to construct one thing lasting with out that kind of steady basis,” Bilas said. “They have been guard-oriented. They have been offensively oriented, and the groups that will beat them could be somebody like Michigan State. They’d get hammered on the glass they usually’d say, ‘We’ve acquired to get higher right here. We’ve acquired to get higher right here.’ And they might recruit guys who have been ultra-competitive, good guys.
“They’re all smart and engaging, have other interests, but when it’s time to play they’ll fight you.”
Few had the thought for a Coaches Vs. Cancer fundraiser in Spokane after he and Marcy have been invited to New York to play in an occasion organized by Jim and Julie Boeheim. The Fews believed a comparable weekend in Spokane would go effectively.
In 2002, Jerid Keefer was recent out of grad faculty at Gonzaga, working at Jack and Dan’s tavern and “firing resumes all over the country” in search of a job in athletics. While he was incomes a grasp’s diploma in sports activities administration and administration, he had helped with the booster membership golf match. So the Fews “recruited” him to run the Coaches Vs. Cancer occasion. Like Gonzaga basketball, all of them have come a great distance.
Organizing was a household affair, in additional methods than one. Several of the coaches’ wives have been concerned in planning, and a number of other, together with Marcy, had younger youngsters.
“You look back on those meetings, and there were a lot of diapers being changed,” Keefer instructed SN. “It’s funny how looking at the old pictures, you tend to get a little nostalgic. To be able to do that in your fourth year as head coach, I think it speaks to the vision that Mark always had — but, at the same time, the friendships and relationships and respect people in the industry had for him. You’re leaning on those friendships, not only with getting the celebrities to visit, but also with sponsors. It was a well-intentioned way to give back to the community.”
The Coaches Vs. Cancer occasion ran from 2002-14, and the subsequent 12 months it progressed — of course — into a a lot bigger event now generally known as “The Showcase.” It now advantages a corporation known as the Community Cancer Fund, which has constructed a Ronald McDonald House in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, and one other in Spokane. Keefer, who serves on the CCF board, mentioned the thought was “to keep more money local and make more of an impact here. Research is fantastic, but we wanted to impact other areas of cancer patients’ journey.”
The Showcase is scheduled for July 29-31 this 12 months. The complete weekend now could be held in Coeur d’Alene, with the golf nonetheless at the resort course with its well-known floating inexperienced, which could be moved to make the gap both unattainable or barely much less unattainable. One actually should take a boat from the tee and might wave at golf balls left behind in the lake on the approach.
Entertainment at the most up-to-date Showcase was introduced by nation famous person Keith Urban, they usually beforehand featured John Fogerty, Sheryl Crow, Aloe Blacc and Adam Levine. Celebrity company have included Wayne Gretzky, Charles Barkley, Jerry Rice and Anthony Michael Hall.
Keefer mentioned the format change has allowed the Fews to stay deeply concerned in the occasion however not function its point of interest. “The one thing they did not like about the weekend . . . they did not want the spotlight. With the CCF, they’re a huge part of it. They’re just not the face of it. They’re able to do great work in the community and have it not be about them.
“Whether we’re speaking about the charitable facet or Gonzaga basketball, when it is all boiled down, that is actually the cool factor about Mark and Marcy Few . . . I take a look at these photos, they usually’re nonetheless the similar as they have been 20 years in the past. It’s loopy to suppose of what they’ve created and to see it now, right this moment.”
The Showcase, since its inception, has raised nearly $17 million for the Community Cancer Fund. It needs to be no shock to see that one thing Mark Few supervised grew past what anybody may need imagined. When he has an thought, it begins large, and it grows. Bigger.