Welcome to Gonzaga's surreal new world
05-19-21

March 26 – not so long ago, right? It was spring then, it’s spring now. How to get vaccinated, and how to get everybody vaccinated, was an issue. It is now.

A certain diminished head of state was bellyaching that he got his office stolen from him. Nothing’s changed there, either.

But Gonzaga hoops . . . in the span of less than eight weeks, the Zags have metamorphosed into something different – something promising, something . . . yes, ominous.

Of course, we know that since March 26, the Zags crashed their second Final Four, won a game for the galaxies against UCLA, and then fizzled ingloriously against Baylor in the NCAA championship game. Subsequently, Tommy Lloyd, wingman to Mark Few over much of his 20 years at GU, left for Arizona.

By themselves, those would be momentous shifts. But it’s off the floor that Gonzaga has entered a stunning new firmament.

March 26 was the day that Hunter Sallis, five-star guard from Omaha, announced he would attend Gonzaga. On April 19, Chet Holmgren, the consensus No. 1 prep player in the country, indicated he’d be moving his precocious, seven-foot talents west from Minneapolis to the Zags. And then Nolan Hickman, another five-star guard from Seattle’s east side, threw in with GU over the weekend after having committed earlier to Kentucky.

Things that took years to happen at Gonzaga now materialize in the span of fortnights.

(This would probably be a good time to include guard Rasir Bolton, a 15-points-a-game scorer at Iowa State, who is also transfer-bound for Gonzaga, hell-bent to prove he deserves more than parentheses.)

This is exactly what Dan Fitzgerald, the godfather of Zag basketball, predicted back in the ’90s, when he got up from sleeping in his car on recruiting trips to sign a second-team West Alameda League standout who’d also made the honor roll.

Not so much. If Fitz, who died in 2010, would still recognize the place today, he surely wouldn’t recognize the personnel.

Suddenly, everybody wants to come to Gonzaga. Rumor has it LeBron James wants to end his career there. Giannis Antetokounmpo probably wants to go fly-fishing with Few. Nikola Jokic is intrigued by Bloomsday and wants to try the ribeye at Clinkerdagger.

This is crazy. This is bananas. This is 2021, and Gonzaga is assembling enough talent to rival an NBA expansion team.

There’s little doubt that this is a new Gonzaga, a different Gonzaga, bigger and badder and purveyor of possibilities once unimaginable on Boone Avenue.

And, let’s face it, something far less than that.

As we know, in some quarters there’s always been an impatience with Gonzaga, as if it jumped the velvet ropes of college basketball without blueblood ID. To those folks, it doesn’t matter how many straight Sweet 16s you get to (six now), or Final Fours. You have to win a title (although when that happens, they’ll likely stipulate you have to win another one).

The Zags haven’t yet won that title, having gotten to the doorstep twice before tripping. Naturally, that turns up the scorn, and the heat. Now, with Holmgren and Co. incoming, that temperature gets turned up to pizza-oven intensity.

This is what Gonzaga hath wrought: Anything short of a national championship, in 2022 or the very near future, will be seen as a failure. Of course, like the Zags’ recent recruiting success, that’s nuts.

But it’s the state of things in Spokane, where GU has orchestrated roughly this evolution in its golden age of hoops: Huggable upstart; dependable, steady if unspectacular force; high-level, Final Four threat; and now, colossus.

It’s a high bar. And one of the intriguing subtexts concerns whether the exquisite culture built by Few sustains any corrosion with the onset of recruits who might put less priority on a championship banner than being one-and-done. You know he guards that culture like it’s the nuclear football.

Indulge Gonzaga fans. In this wild, unfathomable realm, they can’t wait to see.


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