Rob Dauster

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Gonzaga’s blueprint, from the WCC cellar to the Final Four, is incredible and irreplicable

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GLENDALE, Ariz. — To understand just how far Gonzaga has come, you need to first understand what the program was 27 years ago.

“It’s leaps and bounds different,” Gonzaga Athletic Director Mike Roth said. “It doesn’t even resemble [the old program].”

This was before the $25 million, 6,000-seat McCarthy Athletic Center was built, when Gonzaga was still playing in a gym that was straight out of high school, when tickets where $10 a pop and fans could sit anywhere they want. This was before they had a weight room for the athletic teams, when the basketball players would be doing squats next to the college guys doing curls and coeds on the treadmill. This was when Gonzaga, a little Jesuit school on the Washington-Idaho border, was paying their head coach a salary equivalent to a middle school math teacher.

“In no way shape or form could you ever envision what we [built], from that to right now,” head coach Mark Few said. “It’s 500 percent different from that school, how we travel, how we’re treated. We have a new arena.”

“I mean, we have expectations. We’re expected to win. And we’re expected to advance. Heck, we’re expected to get to a Final Four, and if we don’t get to a Final Four, it’s a disaster and we’re a failure. You know? So back in those days we were innocent and foot loose and fancy free. And those were the good old days.”



What makes Gonzaga’s rise from the depths of the WCC to being a top 15 program in college basketball is truly unique, a path that very likely will never be replicated for one, simple reason: The people that were a part of the program when the Zags started their run are still in the program nearly two decades later, as they gear up for the first Final Four in program history.

Mark Few has been with the program for 27 years, nine as an assistant and the last 18 as the head coach. His boss, athletic director Mike Roth, the man responsible for promoting Few all those years ago, has been in that position for 20 years and with the university for 30.

He’s also the man responsible for making sure that Few hasn’t left.

Because there have been overtures. From Indiana. From UCLA. From Oregon, the school that his parents attended, the school that he grew up 15 miles from.

Few said no every time.

“I’ve been lucky to keep Mark over these years,” Roth said. He’s wanted to stay. We’ve been doing the right things to make sure we give him the things he needs.”

“And I’m not talking about contracts. That’s easy stuff. I’m talking about facilities, supporting the program, how we travel, how we provide him opportunities to recruit, those types of things.”

That’s the other key to Gonzaga’s success. It’s not just that they’ve been able to keep Few around for 19 seasons, it’s that they’ve provided him with the financial support needed to be able to compete with the big boys. They built the nicest arena in their league. They’re in the process of building a state-of-the-art practice facility. They charter flights to road games. They charter flights for recruiting. A lot of people have invested a lot of money into building this program, and it’s paying dividends.

The proof?

Look at the caliber of player they’re in the mix with. Take Zach Collins, a McDonald’s All-American and a potential one-and-done first round pick, committed to Gonzaga over the likes of Arizona, Oregon and Cal. They landed Nigel Williams-Goss, a first team all-american this year, left Washington, his hometown school where he was a first-team all-Pac 12 point guard, and enrolled at Gonzaga, the U-Dub’s biggest in-state rival.

“We need to make sure that if we’re here in the Final Four, the teams we’re playing against in the Final Four that we’re doing the same kind of things,” Roth said. “It takes players. Mark can be a great coach, but if we don’t have players, we can’t win games.”

“I thought our teams, even back to ’99, had shown that they could compete if given the opportunity on the national level,” Few said. “And we followed up: Sweet 16, Sweet 16.”

(Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

“Then we got Turiaf and Morrison and guys like that, and I felt we were getting the type of players that we could compete on the national level. And all that time we were staying nationally relevant. Maybe not for this particular weekend, but we were, you know, definitely first and second weekend-type of program, which is pretty good.”

The only comparable mid-major program is Wichita State, but even that isn’t all that similar. For starters, the Shockers were a successful program before Gregg Marshall showed up, and he’s turned that from a really good Missouri Valley program into a top 30 program.

“The way I refer it to is Mark made Gonzaga his next job,” Marshall said. “I make Wichita my next job instead of moving to an intermediate step. More money, whatever. We decided not to leave. We’ve had opportunities to leave, but I didn’t see them as being head and shoulders above Wichita State.”

Where Few separates himself, however, is that Gonzaga never had to jump to a bigger league to survive. VCU went from the CAA to the Atlantic 10. Davidson went from the SoCon to the Atlantic 10. Butler went from the Horizon League to the Atlantic 10 to the Big East.

Gonzaga has remained in the WCC, dominating their league, recruiting pros and — perhaps the best sign of what this program has turned into — scheduling neutral site non-conference games with the best programs in the sport.

No one else can claim that.

And no one else ever will.

Dana Altman, now in his first Final Four, should have been fired over Oregon’s rape case

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GLENDALE, Ariz. — Dana Altman shouldn’t be coaching in the Final Four. He should have been fired three years ago.

Mark Few and Frank Martin probably shouldn’t be coaching in the Final Four, either, but the circumstances are entirely different.

Few is the head coach of a program that was considered the worst job in the WCC as recently as 25 years ago, a program that had no basketball pedigree to speak of when he got the job, a program in a city that is more Montana than it is Seattle.

Martin?

He’s a longtime high school coach and a former nightclub bouncer in Miami that took over a bad South Carolina program, one that had never won two games in the NCAA tournament and had taken just four trips to the NCAA tournament in the previous four decades, because he didn’t like his boss at Kansas State.

Those guys are the ultimate success stories.

Altman has done a terrific job building Oregon, who had been to just 10 NCAA tournaments in 73 years, into a national power that has been to five straight NCAA tournaments and, now, an Elite 8 and Final Four in back-to-back years, but the success that he’s had shouldn’t cover-up the black eye left on this program back in 2014.

In March of that year, prior to the start of the Pac-12 and NCAA tournaments and after the Ducks upset then-No. 3 Arizona in Eugene, three Oregon players — Dominic Artis, Damyean Dotson and Brandon Austin — were alleged to have committed forcible rape of a female student at the university. The woman’s father would notify the Oregon police department the next morning while the woman would make a report to the Eugene police on March 13th, the day that UCLA beat Oregon in the Pac-12 tournament. Artis and Dotson combined for 15 points and 23 minutes in that loss.

Austin did not play.

He had been suspended by Providence for the 2013-14 season because he had been accused of sexual assault by a female student in the fall of 2013, transferring to Oregon that January, just two months before his second allegation.

EPD contacted Oregon that day, alerting them to the fact that three players were being investigated, but, according to a statement from Oregon at the time, did not tell the school which players were being investigated or what the investigation was for. Artis and Dotson would combine for seven points in each of the two NCAA tournament games the Ducks participated in that year.

None of this was made public until early May, when the EPD released a graphic police report detailing the allegations against the players. All three were suspended from the university less than a week later and, within two months, were dismissed from the school and banned from campus for 10 years.

“I’m comfortable with the way we handled it,” Altman said. “It was three years ago. But I think in retrospect everything was handled correctly.”

The players never faced charges.

(Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

Altman was rightfully questioned for allowing players that were accused of sexual assault to play in Oregon’s tournament games, but it’s hard to criticize — and, frankly, harder to actually believe — a coach for listening to the police when they told him not to interfere in a criminal investigation.

The mistake Altman made was with Austin.

The cause for Austin’s suspension did not become public until March 18th, when the Wall Street Journal reported the details of the allegations, but it was the worst-kept secret within basketball circles.

Everyone knew.

Which means one of two things happened, either:

  1. Altman brought in a player that had been accused of sexual assault just months prior to his transfer, and he allegedly did it again on Oregon’s campus, or;
  2. Altman didn’t put in the minimal amount of work required to figure out why Austin was suspended, which allowed him to make his way to Oregon, where he allegedly assaulted another female student.

There’s no middle ground there.

Either Altman didn’t do his job, accurately vetting why a player had been suspended, or he lost a bet on whether or not a kid he brought into his program was actually a predator.

Both of those are fireable offenses.

Altman escaped any real punishment — he was named along with the university in a lawsuit filed by the accuser for “deliberate indifference”, which was settled for an $800,000 payout in August of 2015 — and he almost immediately turned things back around. Despite returning just three scholarship players, he won 26 games in 2014-15, finishing tied for second in the Pac-12 and returning to the NCAA tournament.

“Our guys did a great job, our staff did a great job. We had great support from the university. So it went fairly smooth,” Altman said.

A year later, Altman was in the Elite 8 for the first time in his career.

That was one year ago.

He’s now in the Final Four; no one ever said he wasn’t a hell of a basketball coach.

That’s doesn’t mean that he deserves the job that he has, and it certainly doesn’t make him or Oregon a feel-good story.

Mark Emmert: NCAA Board of Governors to meet ‘in the next few days’ to determine N.C.’s tournament standing

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GLENDALE, Ariz. — Late on Wednesday night, the state of North Carolina reached an agreement to repeal the controversial and discriminatory House Bill 2 law, which is commonly known as the bathroom bill.

The NCAA had given the state a deadline of Thursday morning to make a change in this law or they would miss out on hosting NCAA tournament game until the 2022 season, so it’s not hard to connect the dots here. The pressure the NCAA asserted on the state helped create a change.

The question is just how much of a change, as many believe that the repeal does not do enough to change what is discriminatory about the law.

“What distinguished North Carolina,” NCAA president Mark Emmert said, “there were four distinct problems that the board had with that bill, and they removed some of them but not all of them. If you removed two or three of them, is that enough?”

The NCAA Board of Governors have stretched out the process of determining future tournament sites as far as possible, Emmert said, meaning that a decision on this new bill will be made soon.

“Because this happened on such short notice, we have to find a time to get together with the board, and that will probably happen in the next few days,” Emmert said, and in those meetings, the board “will determine if this [new] bill is sufficient change.”

“I’m personally very pleased they have a bill to debate and discuss. Hopefully we can be in a place where we can announce the board’s decision early next week.”

CBT Fancast: Catching up with famous Final Four fans: Adam Morrison, Marcus Paige, Neil Everett

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For today’s episode, I spoke with the famous fans of the programs in the Final Four, from the greatest player in Gonzaga history to the almost-star of last year’s Final Four to the most famous dual Gonzaga and Oregon fan in the world.

Sindarius Thornwell misses practice on Thursday

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Sindarius Thornwell has been the best player in the NCAA tournament to date, yet he was not in the building on Thursday when the South Carolina Gamecocks practiced and he was nowhere to be found during South Carolina’s media availability.

A school spokeswoman told reporters that Thornwell was back at the hotel, that he was sick and resting.

Thornwell is averaging 25.7 points in four games in the NCAA tournament. He’s been sensational. If he’s not at his best this weekend, that’s a massive blow for South Carolina’s chances of getting to a national title game, but South Carolina head coach Frank Martin doesn’t seem too concerned.

“I’ve got a bug myself. Luckily I don’t have to play,” Martin said. “He had a little body temperature last night when we landed. And he was a little better this morning. But I kind of told our trainer, just feed him fluids, do what doctors do and let him rest rather than stress him right now. He’s our most intelligent player. And I don’t mean to say that demeaning the other guys. He understands basketball at a high, high level, he doesn’t need to be on the practice court to understand what we’re doing.”

Arizona freshman Lauri Markkanen to declare for NBA Draft

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Arizona freshman Lauri Markkanen will announce today that he is declaring for the NBA Draft and signing with an agent, according to multiple reports.

The program is holding a press conference for Thursday at 1 p.m. ET.

Markkanen is a 7-footer from Finland that averaged 15.6 points this season while shooting 42 percent from beyond the arc. He’s projected as a top ten pick, and his size and versatility should make him a valuable piece given the way that the NBA is trending.

There is very little surprise with this decision. The expectation always was that Markkanen would be gone after one season.

The news was first reported by Scout.com.