Have the Gonzaga Bulldogs kicked the Cinderella title to the curb?

gonzaga bulldogs

Written by Coach Peterman

I have coached at the NCAA Division 2 (Southwestern Oklahoma State University), NAIA (USAO), and JUCO Levels (Blinn College and Carl Albert State College) as well as high school. I just felt that fellow coaches especially young coaches need to constantly work on their “game”. Just like the basketball players that we coach. We as coaches need to improve ourselves. That is my story and why I do this blog.

March 30, 2017

Leaving Cinderella Behind: Gonzaga Bulldogs by John Mietus

gonzaga bulldogs

The Gonzaga Bulldogs team this year pose an interesting new question to college basketball fans: What is a mid-major basketball school? Now that Gonzaga’s team has crashed the Final Four, they can no longer be considered some upstart program with mediocre talent, surviving on coaching and pluck. They have excellent players in the program, including two last year who graduated and went on to the NBA. This year’s team has fewer surefire NBA players (arguably their only clear NBA talent is sixth-man Zach Collins, who averages about 25 minutes per game for the team). But they are strong across the board, with nine players seeing extensive playing time in the NCAA tournament.The Gonzaga Bulldogs provide a decent roadmap for any program looking to advance the level of its play.

Here are a few major factors about the Gonzaga Bulldogs

1. Find the right leader. Gonzaga’s coach Mark Few has been to 18 straight NCAA tournaments and up until this year, been considered somewhat of an underachiever in terms of their success. That is crazy talk. Winning a conference and/or conference tournament championship every single year takes incredible discipline, character, and drive. Few has piloted the Gonzaga ship for a long time successfully and, fortunately for Gonzaga, managed to avoid leaving for “higher profile” college jobs. In the words of one of my coaching heroes Bob Reade, “If you can build it at a small high school, you can build it at a big high school. The process is the same just for different sizes of school.” The same applies to excellent small or mid-size college coaches. Given time and resources, they can build big programs too. A great coach is a great coach at any level. Few happens to be a mostly quiet, introverted man who perhaps prefers the slower pace of life in Spokane to being at a bigger school. He has been a great fit both in temperament and ability for the job.

2. Bring in as much high character talent as you possibly can. Gonzaga has been extremely fortunate over the years that with the exception of former center Josh Heytvelt, very few of their players have been in trouble with the law. Of course, fortune smiles on the well prepared, and it seems as though Gonzaga does an excellent job vetting high character players for the program in order to ensure a healthy environment. The team scours both domestic and international recruits and currently boasts a roster with players from Poland, France, Japan, and Canada. Historically they recruit well in Australia as well. For high school coaches who don’t have the luxury of recruiting, the lesson to take away from Gonzaga is the emphasis on high character young men who add value to the program merely by their presence. Don’t settle on people who are “talented” but volatile.

3. Preach team above the individual. Following Kentucky’s win over UCLA in the Sweet 16, Kentucky coach John Calipari stated, “I told the guys at halftime just give the ball to (their point guard), and get out of the way.” While that may be a nice idea for one or two possessions, it sends the wrong message to a team about the value of each player’s contribution. Nobody does it alone. I guarantee, no matter how good at basketball, a player is, a double team is going to force the ball out of their hands and force other people to the team to make plays. This Gonzaga team is not the most talented (NBA level) group they’ve ever had at the school. It is, however, the best-balanced group of high-level talent they’ve put together. Balance and teamwork makes a difference and finding an entire group that works well together makes for a more difficult team to face.

By avoiding the glamorous appeal of taking shortcuts to success, Gonzaga has built something with staying power. They continue to demonstrate remarkable qualities like patience, discipline, and teamwork that go a long way toward the maintenance of a successful basketball program (or any program/business). Whether they win a national championship or not, they deserve a lot of credit for the type of program they have built and sustained over the past 18 years.

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Leaving Cinderella Behind: Gonzaga Bulldogs

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