What happened to all those articles about how Gonzaga was slipping the WCC? I would have sworn the rest of the conference was catching up to the Zags but...shouldn't that be reflected in team results and individual awards? Today clinched it for me; Gonzaga might have been a bit more vulnerable this season than in years past, but they are still extremely strong as a program. I would even venture to say that this year shows that strength better than any year I can remember. GU's losses were known: four of their leading scorers were moving on but all of that was quickly forgotten by this fresh batch of new faces and returning players. Their efforts early on against Michigan State and through Maui and all the way up until today have netted the Zags a tremendous 24-5 record and, as of today, many more trophies to add to the ever expanding case.
The first and by far most outstanding award given out today by the West Coast Conference was for Coach of the Year. Like I mentioned, the 2009-10 season was supposed to be a rebuilding season for this team. Last year's team was billed as Mark Few's most talented but, in the end, they probably fell short in the eye's of many Gonzaga fans for one reason or another. Now as we are about to enter the West Coast Conference tournament, I feel like it is imperative that we recognize the simply astonishing job Mark Few has done this year. In all, four freshmen have played major roles; one has started and the other three (Manny, Kelly, and Grant) have all played quality minutes at some point. The Bol Kong saga and story has been well laid out and we know the issues which faced him this year. Robert Sacre had been plagued by injuries and Demetri Goodson was an unproven point guard. All these were against Mark Few when he took on this team and it has truly been one of the most enjoyable seasons I can remember as a Gonzaga fan. From discovering new things about all the new players to seeing veteran players like Will Foster step up at crucial times, you really realize that this staff and their work this season has really been second to none.
Mark Few may have been a major reason for Gonzaga's success thus far this season, but there were also some individual performers that were rewarded today.
All season long we have discussed the "Three Headed Monster" of Matt Bouldin, Steven Gray, and Elias Harris. Ever since Maui, we knew that these three were the key pieces to success moving on into 2010. Matt Bouldin's return for his senior season was one which many fans took with great interest. Matt had always been a solid contributor but there were questions about whether or not he could truly lead. Most of that concern went away early in the year as Bouldin made a conscious choice to contribute in whatever way he could. He didn't always shoot the ball well but you could bet that he would finish a night with six assists and five rebounds. People want to talk about legacy with Matt but there is still much to be determined in the NCAA Tournament when it comes to where he stacks up. All I know is that when Gonzaga is firing on all cylinders, Matt is make smart passes, making plays, and not forcing himself on the action. There have been small glimpses of this throughout the season and his steady play vaulted him to being named the West Coast Conference player of the year. To be honest, this sort of feels like a four year award for Matt. His four-year contributions were worthy of such a great honor even if someone like Omar Samhan may have had just as good an argument.
When you think about consistency, I'd wager that Steven Gray isn't the guy that comes to mind. The junior wing for Gonzaga has had an outstanding, albeit up and down season. He's dazzled us on multiple occasions with outstanding scoring nights and times where it looks like he flat out can't be stopped. His games in Maui, and against Illinois and Santa Clara come to mind when I think about Steven at his best. Still, he has those games where nothing is working and he fails to make an impact. The fallout after the USF loss was brutal for Steven. Before that game he was playing at an outstanding level and afterwards he completely lost it. Luckily, and hopefully this lasts a while, he seems to have regained that touch as of late. Whatever the case, Steven's 14 point average and suffocating defense are easily enough to warrant him a spot on the All-WCC team. He came in as a sharpshooter but was forced to change all that after a wrist injury and now he is just a complete basketball player.
Last, but certainly not least is the most surprising (in many ways) player that has come to Gonzaga in recent memory. A guy with no recruiting hype, no Rivals page, and no AAU hightlight tapes has blossomed into one of the top freshman not just in the conference, but in the entire country. Elias Harris' name has been mentioned with guys like Demarcus Cousins, Xavier Henry, and Avery Bradley. It's funny to think we first heard about him officially when the WCC issued a press release with all the recent scholarship signings. I believe his name was hidden between tennis players or something. We saw right from jump street with Elias that this kid meant nothing but business. His intensity and fearlessness on the court was something we have never seen from a freshman at this university. The two games that stand out for me was Harris' game against Michigan State (17 points) and his one-man show at Saint Mary's (31 points). In the toughest of conditions is where he thrives and those two games show just what he can do when faced with adversity. His game has hit such a level that he's now getting double-teamed on a regular basis. Rumors of NBA Lottery selection have swirled around him but he just continues to go about his business. His 15 point average and what he has brought to this team have been more than enough to easily earn him the WCC Newcomer of the Year.
It's been a great year. There is really no other way to describe it. The best part about the whole thing is that I don't really think we are anywhere near being done yet. This team has set itself up so that it can do some very special things in the NCAA Tournament. It's been a great ride that I really hope just keeps on going because this group of players, although very young overall, has already done so much for this program.