Gonzaga Men's Basketball Team Sticks With What Works

Mark Few is in his 10th year as head coach at Gonzaga, where continuity breeds success.
Mark Few is in his 10th year as head coach at Gonzaga, where continuity breeds success. (By Denis Poroy -- Associated Press)
By Daniel Uthman
Special to The Washington Post
Wednesday, March 25, 2009

A year and a half before he made the shot that sent Gonzaga to the NCAA tournament's round of 16 for the fifth time since 1999, Demetri Goodson checked into the Davenport Hotel in downtown Spokane, Wash.

His room in the gilded, luxurious, 95-year-old landmark was adorned with Gonzaga paraphernalia, including the jersey of one of the team's greatest players, Adam Morrison.

Goodson was an important recruiting target for the Bulldogs. As a highly regarded Texan, his signing would show that Gonzaga's increasingly nationwide pursuit of talent was making continued progress. As a highly regarded point guard, he was an ideal successor to Jeremy Pargo, a senior this season.

But like they do with all high school players who visit Gonzaga, the Bulldogs players who were hosting Goodson weren't just courting him on that last weekend of September 2007. They were cross-examining him.

"When we bring a kid on a visit, they spend the maximum amount of time with our players, and the players have veto power," Gonzaga Coach Mark Few said. "And we've had some vetoes over the years."

Those close to the team point to continuity -- its coaches have been with the program for a combined 47 years, and the program uses a system that keeps alumni involved in the program -- as the main factor in the Bulldogs' run of 11 consecutive NCAA tournament berths. But just as important has been a willingness to take uncommon approaches to Division I college basketball.

In addition to the vetting of recruited prospects, the Bulldogs have used practices from the past such as redshirting freshmen and innovative methods such as statistical analysis to build a program that has won 20 or more games in each of the past 12 seasons.

When Gonzaga's run began with a region final appearance in 1999, three of the Bulldogs' five starters -- Casey Calvary, Jeremy Eaton and Richie Frahm -- had sat out a season as redshirts. Even now, in an era when many top high school players look at college as a brief stop en route to the NBA, Gonzaga is redshirting three players -- freshmen Grant Gibbs and Andy Poling and sophomore Robert Sacre -- because it sees a greater need for them in the future.

"I would guess that if you don't have the McDonald's all-Americans or the level below that, you can still do it," said Jerry Krause, Gonzaga's director of basketball operations and the author of more than 30 books on coaching basketball. "It's a selling job, and you do have to show that you're developing them -- that it's good for them as well as for the program."

Few relies on Krause for daily evaluations of the state of the program. Using statistical models he created with a junior high school coach and math teacher 50 years ago in Iowa, Krause posts grades for every player after every practice and for the team after every game.

"He does a great job charting our offensive efficiency and our defensive efficiency," Few said. "I think those are great barometers for how your team is playing and operating. And he has the wisdom of seeing it all and being around it all those years. Sometimes it might be a word, sometimes it might be a sentence; it just can add sense to a wild, frantic time."

The Rev. Robert J. Spitzer, Gonzaga's president, and Athletic Director Mike Roth view Few in much the same way. They revere his quiet demeanor and methodical mind-set.

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