Personally, I’ve been a fan of Gonzaga Bulldogs men’s basketball since the late 90′s, when they made their first run in the NCAA Tournament. See, in Calgary, we got all of our American network TV from Spokane, WA–home of Gonzaga U–and this was sort of a big deal. Ever since then, I’ve kept tabs on the team, even after moving to Toronto. (Online streaming plays a big part in that.) I’ve actually got a Toronto Raptors program with Adam Morrison on the cover from his rookie year in Charlotte, and a Number 23 Gonzaga jersey, even though I can’t think of any Zags who wore that number.
But lately, supporting Gonzaga isn’t just a matter of watching the team I used to see on local cable–it’s a matter of national pride. Robert Sacre, a seven-foot centre from North Vancouver, is playing the best basketball of his career, and if I was the Raptors, I’d take him in the second round next season. Not only that, but their new starting point guard, Kevin Pangos, is a freshman from the GTA who lit up Washington State for 33 points in his second collegiate game. Fans of Canadian basketball, your future plays its home games at McCarthey Athletic Center.
I gotta say, Sacre has progressed by leaps and bounds over his college career. He went from a timid frosh who’d get all his shots blocked to a veteran leader, double-double guy who can shoot the hook with both hands, has a decent mid-range J, and did I mention that he’s an 85 per cent free-throw shooter, at a legit seven-foot, 260+? Like I said, the Raptors could use his low-post presence, even if he does no better than Rony Turiaf in the show.
Pangos meanwhile is still raw, but he’s shown shades of Steve Nash with his drive-and-dish passing. He can also hit the three–in fact, he made nine of them against WSU. While I can’t see him coming out early, in four years’ time he could be the next Steve Nash, if he continues to improve. In any case, he’s been in the starting lineup in Spokane from Day One.
Need another reason to support the Zags? Well, John Stockton, the school’s most famous alum, has a 20-year-old son in his sophomore season at GU. David Stockton, generously listed at 5’11″ and 152, is a redshirt, walk-on sixth man who shows signs of his dad with his court vision, leading the team on the break and disrupting opponents on defence. In fact, I’d say he’s a better pure point than Pangos at this stage of his career, though his size will likely keep him from playing at the next level. Still, if you like an undersized underdog–who’s a stellar passer, to boot–look no further than the second-generation Stockton.
After starting the season 4-0, the Zags are ranked 18th in the ESPN poll, but have a tough stretch of non-conference games against Notre Dame, Illinois, Michigan State, Oral Roberts, Arizona and Butler. If the NBA couldn’t return soon enough, you could do worse than to watch some top-level college basketball. In fact, all of the aforementioned, aside from ORU, are televised nationally on ESPN2–with the exception of the Arizona game, which airs on CBS. If you’re north of the border, there are a coupla streams showing the games on the internet, if you know where to look.
If you’re one of those weird Canadian kids like me who grew up playing basketball, not hockey, then you’ll wanna check out a Gonzaga team that displays the most key Canadian content of any major NCAA school. I don’t wanna say these kids could beat the (C)Raptors, but if Bargnani’s having an off day, you never know…