“Mighty Bulldogs, answer the call, And champions we will be!
With Jesuit pride, defend the true blue and white, Fight on to Victory!”
Okay, maybe we’re not all Jesuit, but for this tournament, anyone who has supported a small school program, we can all have one thing in common.
We are all Zags.
The torch for all mid-majors and small programs who want to believe they actually have a chance in the viscious, high-dollar world of college basketball is being carried by that small college in Spokane, WA, alma mater of NBA all-tie steals/assists leader John Stockton.
In one of the craziest college basketball seasons in history, the team that stood atop the rankings at the end, was, of all people, Gonzaga. As a result, the Zags (though their official team name is the Bulldogs) grabbed a number one seed in this year’s tournament.
Not bad for a program that never made the tournament before 1995.
Other small schools have actually made even more noise in the tournament recently. George Mason, Butler and Virginia Commonwealth have all made the Final Four since, while Gonzaga has yet to get to that spot despite being in the tourney every year since the 1999 Elite Eight run that put them on the map.
But one can’t deny it was that run that inspired such schools into pushing their own programs. The effect of the Zags still runs to this day, even into the Metroplex, where UTA coach Scott Cross boldly predicts his program aspires to be like Gonzaga.
But it’s not just the campus in Arlington where college fans in the Metroplex can relate. The dedication of Gonzaga’s head coach invokes similarities to a certain football coach in Fort Worth.
When Mark Few took over the program in 1999 replacing Dan Monson, many certainly felt any success he had would just lead to the same thing – a stepping stone to a job at a bigger university.
But just like Gary Patterson, Few has stayed in Spokane, likely knowing that he has the chance to build something special that he couldn’t do anywhere else.
It’s loyalty like that that still provides a ray of hope in a game that has become overrun with selfishness and greed at too many times. And this year has so far been one of the biggest examples of that hope.
Last year was a reflection of what was going wrong with the game, as Kentucky won it all with its collection of “one and done” players. College sports have always been about supporting the front of the jersey, but seeing so many players depart before you get to know their names has definitely dulled the sport’s luster.
In 2011: Poetic justice. Kentucky failed to make the dance and then suffered further humiliation with a first-round exit in the NIT. And their spot at the top has been overtaken by Gonzaga.
And this year’s team has five juniors, most of whom will almost certainly be back. Next year’s team could be even better.
Gonzaga still has a long way to go. A struggle to beat Southern in the first round surely gave their detractors more ammo. And they will be even more of a marked team by competitors who still don’t like them crashing their party. They can’t sneak up on people any more.
But if the stars are finally aligned right, Few’s bunch may just finally get over that hump to the Final Four, claim that simple wooden trophy and have fans of UTA, Butler and other “little guys” cheering with them.
“Go! Gonzaga! G-O-N-Z-A-G-A!
Go! Gonzaga! G-O-N-Z-A-G-A!”
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