The 2009-10 season, when Butler was one banked-out heave from the most storybook national title maybe ever, was Brad Stevens' third as a head coach. One of the many accomplishments that accompanied that run -- one rightly mentioned far less than "nearly beat Coach K in the national title game" -- was Stevens' overall wins tally. Earlier that season, when Butler beat Siena in the BracketBusters (pour out your liquor now), Stevens tied the record for most wins by a coach in his first three years.
Guess who held the record when Stevens broke it?
If you guessed Mark Few ... well, actually, you get no points, because this article is about Mark Few, so the answer was probably pretty obvious. (If you guessed Mark Few and then-Nevada coach Mark Fox, who tied it in 2007, we'll be more impressed.) Anyway, it's true: Few set that record back in 2002. It stood unbroken for nearly a decade. When it finally was, it took the current coach of the Boston Celtics, nothing less than a once-in-a-generation coaching talent, to do so.
Of course, that's just one of the many mind-blowing statistics about Few's 15-year tenure at Gonzaga. Here's another: Despite playing in a true mid-major conference that has only occasionally sent more than one team to the NCAA tournament, Few has never missed the Dance once in his 15 years. Not once! Here's another: In 10 of those 15 seasons, Gonzaga won the regular season and conference tournament titles. Here's another: If the Bulldogs hadn't missed their final four shots at San Francisco on Feb. 18, 2012, they wouldn't have lost 66-65, they would have tied Saint Mary's at 14-2 in league play, and we'd be able to say that Few had won or shared the last 14 West Coast Conference titles. Instead, we'll just say this: 13 out of 14 ain't bad.
In 2012-13, Gonzaga entered the NCAA tournament seeded No. 1 overall for the first time in school history. There was a lot of weird, silly whining by fans of other top schools about this seed, and Kelly Olynyk and friends didn't exactly silence the haters in the bracket. But in Spokane, Wash., the No. 1 seed was a testament to the work Few had done for almost two decades. The 1990s' most lovable Cinderella was a true hegemon now, a yearly force to be reckoned with.
Last season's team lost Olynyk, forward Elias Harris (who entered the program with huge promise, stumbled in his sophomore and junior seasons, and had his best year as a senior) and swingman Mike Hart (the best glue guy, with the nation's highest offensive rating) to the NBA draft and/or graduation. Sam Dower filled in somewhat capably, but it took until March for 7-foot center Przemek Karnowski's ability to shine through. And even so, the 2013-14 team won 29 games, ranked in the nation's top 20 in efficiency defense, won the WCC regular season and conference tournament titles (ho-hum) and retained most of its attack for the season to come.
Is there a more intriguing 2014-15 team than the Zags? Kevin Pangos and Gary Bell in the backcourt. A blooming (and booming) Karnowski up front. Kyle Dranginis on the wing. And Kyle Wiltjer -- the seventh man on Kentucky's 2011-12 national title team, and an outside-in forward custom-made for Few's spread sets -- joining up. That's a potentially spectacular offensive team, with a defense that should be awfully good, too.
So, yeah, Gonzaga will be good, because Gonzaga is always good, because Few is Gonzaga's coach. Such is the defining tautology of Zags hoops. Fifteen years ago, Few took over a darling and turned it into a monster, and he isn't slowing down anytime soon.
-- Eamonn Brennan