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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.

Trae Jefferson to transfer out of Texas Southern

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Texas Southern guard and NCAA tournament darling Trae Jefferson announced on Saturday that he’s leaving the school.

The 5-foot-7 Jefferson was sensational at times during his sophomore season with the Tigers as he put up 23.1 points, 4.6 assists and 3.1 rebounds per game, helping lead Texas Southern to a victory in the 2018 NCAA Tournament’s First Four in Dayton over North Carolina Central. One of the most entertaining talents in college basketball, Jefferson is leaving Texas Southern in-part because former head coach Mike Davis took the job at Detroit this offseason.

While Detroit is going to be the favorite to land Jefferson, because of his connection to Davis, it’ll be interesting to see what his transfer market looks like. Jefferson also made it clear on his Twitter page that he would like to be closer to his hometown of Milwaukee so that he can be closer to his ailing grandfather.

Given NCAA transfer rules, Jefferson would likely have to sit out next season before getting two more years of eligibility. But he could be applying for a waiver if he’s trying to be closer to home to deal with his family situation.

Nevada’s Josh Hall transfers to Missouri State

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Nevada lost a talented player from last season’s team as rising junior Josh Hall opted to transfer to Missouri State on Friday night.

The 6-foot-7 Hall is a former top-150 recruit who played a key part in the Wolf Pack’s postseason run as he elevated his play to average 13 points and 4.7 rebounds per game during the 2018 NCAA Tournament. Hall also made the game-winning bucket to lift Nevada past No. 2 seed Cincinnati in the second round.

Although Hall picked up his play late in the year, he was coming off the bench most of his sophomore campaign as he averaged 6.9 points and 3.9 rebounds per game last season.

Since Nevada took in some talented transfers, while players like Jordan Caroline and the Martin twins opted not to turn pro, it left head coach Eric Musselman with too many scholarship players for the 2018-19 season. It looks like some of those issues are now going away as Hall is leaving for Missouri State and graduate transfer guard Ehab Amin opted to decommit from the school.

Nevada is expected to be a preseason top-10 team next season with all of the talent they have returning to the roster, along with the addition of some new pieces like McDonald’s All-American big man Jordan Brown.

Hall will likely have to sit out next season due to NCAA transfer rules as he still has two years of eligibility remaining.

Chris Webber accepts Jim Harbaugh’s invitation to be honorary Michigan football captain

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The frosty relationship between Chris Webber and the University of Michigan could be thawing — thanks to an invitation from football head coach Jim Harbaugh.

On Friday, Harbaugh called in to WTKA’s “The M Zone” as show host Jamie Morris had Webber on the show. Harbaugh offered Webber the opportunity to be an honorary captain for the Michigan football team next season, to which Webber replied that he would love the opportunity.

Webber, a former member of the “Fab Five” who helped the Wolverines to two consecutive NCAA tournament title-game appearances in 1992 and 1993, has not associated directly with the school, or with other members of the Fab Five, for many years.

The NCAA mandated that Webber and Michigan not associate with one another for 10 years after the Ed Martin booster scandal. Webber has always been reluctant to participate in anything Michigan or Fab Five related. When the famous Fab Five documentary was made a few years ago, Webber was the only member of the quintet not to participate in the making of the film. Jalen Rose, Juwan Howard, Jimmy King and Ray Jackson all have a solid relationship with the University of Michigan at this point.

Webber later criticized the film during an appearance on the Dan Patrick Show, as King and Rose fired back with responses to reignite the feud. In the past, Rose has also been vocal in his belief that Webber should apologize for what happened at Michigan, as the group is hoping to move forward.

Although Webber still isn’t mending fences with the other Fab Five members, or the basketball program, returning to Michigan in some kind of official capacity is a big deal considering his past with the school.

Harbaugh and Webber haven’t decided on a game for next season yet as that will be something to watch for over the next several months.

Akoy Agau returning to Louisville as graduate transfer

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Louisville received a boost to its frontcourt rotation on Friday as former big man Akoy Agau will return to the Cardinals as a graduate transfer.

The 6-foot-8 Agau originally committed and enrolled at Louisville for a season and a half to begin his college hoops career before transferring to Georgetown. After leaving the Hoyas to play at SMU last season, Agau received a sixth year of eligibility from the NCAA after battling injury for much of his career.

Agau gives Louisville an experienced forward who should earn some solid minutes next season. With the Mustangs during the 2017-18 season, Agau averaged 5.0 points and 3.6 rebounds per game in 16.1 minutes per contest.

While this isn’t the biggest splash for the Cardinals, they have plenty of scholarships to use for next season as new head coach Chris Mack tries to find a stable rotation. Getting a graduate transfer like Agau, who should be familiar with the school and the conference at the very least, is a nice step for a one-year placeholder.

NCAA President Mark Emmert got a $500,000 raise in 2016

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NCAA president Mark Emmert, the man in charge of a non-profit association that doesn’t have enough money to pay its laborers, received a $500,000 raise for the 2016 calendar year, bringing his total income to more than $2.4 million, according to an NCAA tax return that was obtained by USA Today.

That number actually pales in comparison to the salaries that are received by the commissioners of the Power 5 conferences.

But there’s not enough money to pay the players.

Nope.

Everyone is broke.

Carry on with your day, and pray for the well-being of NCAA administrators like Mark Emmert, whose salary is in no way whatsoever inflated by amateurism, which allows the schools and the NCAA to bank all of the advertising revenue that college basketball and football brings in and bars the players themselves from accessing that money.