It didn’t take me long to get my feet wet in intercollegiate athletics. Nineteen years ago as an eight-year old little squirt I served as a ball boy for the Gonzaga University men’s basketball team. I had the time of my life shagging balls, wiping up sweat, and passing out water. Because of how greatly I was treated by the coaching staff (led by head coach Dan Fitzgerald and assisted by Dan Monson and yes, Mark Few) and players I developed an obsession for Zag basketball. From the time of my service as a ball boy running all the way through my senior year of high school I was a Gonzaga basketball fanatic.
During my two seasons as a ball boy I got to work for a couple good Gonzaga basketball teams. I got to serve with fellow ball boy Adam Morrison (who I would end up going to high school with). I got to watch Steve Nash in a Santa Clara uniform torch the Bulldogs for 40 points. I got to run around the tiny old 4,000-seat “Kennel” in Martin Centre. I got to bounce on balls in the training room. I got to have a lot of fun.
As I said I got to work for a couple good Gonzaga teams…not great Gonzaga teams. That tide shifted the season after my term as a ball boy ended. With me out of the picture and my brother taking my spot as the Reser Bulldog Ball Boy the Zags staged the seemingly miraculous run to the Elite 8 where they would come just short of making the Final Four. That special season, especially the tournament run, will always go down as one of my favorite childhood memories.
Fast forward 16 years and a lot have changed. I no longer live in the state. The Zags no longer play in Martin Centre. I have a new favorite team. Gonzaga has a new uniform deal. I keep company with a Grizzly bear and a passionate marketing team. Gonzaga keeps company with the nation’s top basketball teams and ESPN. However, after the past 16 years there is still one thing that has remained constant: Gonzaga basketball is annually making it to the NCAA Tournament.
To make it to the NCAA Tournament 16 years in a row is astonishing. To do it at a small Spokane school adds to the achievement. Players come and go, different powers rise to the top, and programs have bad years. To somehow manage to fight against averages and make it to the best postseason tournament in all of sports for so long speaks immensely to the strength of a program.
It also speaks to the head coach. Love the Zags or hate them, they definitely aren’t America’s darling anymore, Mark Few deserves complete respect from all. After Dan Monson left after his Elite 8 season Few has done nothing but coach the Zags for 15 solid seasons while picking up 400 victories. Watching our own Lady Griz coach Robin Selvig pick up his 800th win this season after more than three decades at the helm helped me realize how amazing Few’s accomplishment is. His loyalty, community service, and winning ways make me a big fan.
But these days my fandom stops at the coach. I am a diehard Griz and I wouldn’t mind if our men’s team won the conference tournament this week, drew Gonzaga in the second round, and pulled an upset by sticking it to them. Great memories and nothing but respect for Gonzaga but I would love to see the team I care about more than any other line up against the Zags on the hardwood and take care of business. Good luck to the Griz basketball team in Ogden this week. Don’t Blink.