Rounding out our Q&A session with some of the best college basketball writers in the nation is Mr. Gary Parrish who writes for CBS Sports. Parrish runs an excellent blog at CBS and has become a writer that many basketball fanatics like us read everyday. Gary was nice enough to join us to answer a few questions about the Zags this season. In case you missed it, we were also able to carry out similar Q&A's with Luke Winn of SI.com and Jeff Goodman of Fox Sports. So without further ado...
The Slipper Still Fits: What has been the most impressive aspect of Gonzaga's rise to national prominence?
Gary Parrish: Just the consistency of it, and how the school didn't merely settle for being best in the WCC. Instead, Gonzaga invested in its program in terms of facilities, money, everything. And that's how this happened, and it's why you see schools like Tulsa and Saint Joseph's and (just watch) Davidson come and go from the national scene. Those schools ride their wave and enjoy it, but fail to capitalize on the moment. You have to spend the money to sustain success, and that's what Gonzaga has done. It spent money and kept the right coach, and this is the reward.
TSSF: The early season play of Josh Heytvelt has been one of the great stories for this team. How close do you think Josh is to returning to his pre-suspension form? When healthy, do you think he is one of the elite bigs in the country?
GP: I don't think he'll ever be the same player, if only because his body is so different. He can be effective still, no question. But the idea that he'll ever be the player we saw at Madison Square Garden two years ago is incorrect. He's heavier, less bouncy, so on and so forth. And though I'm not sure where he ranks among big men (certainly behind Blake Griffin, Hasheem Thabeet, Samardo Samuels, Tyler Hansbrough and a few others), there's no question he's been very good so far this season, and it's been fun to watch. He's doing well, and I hope he continues it.
TSSF: As you wrote about in a previous column, Jeremy Pargo has really transformed himself into a true PG for this team? Where would you rank Jeremy among the top PG's in the country, and do you think his game will translate well at the NBA level?
GP: Jeremy will play in the NBA; I believe that strongly. Why? Because he listened to what the scouts told him, that it's more important to run a team than to score, more important to make others better than to get your own shot. He's become really good at picking his spots, knowing when to push it, pull it, pass it and whatever. So his game will translate to the NBA, and he'll be a nice rotation player for many, many years.
continue reading more of our interview with Gary Parrish after the jump...
TSSF: Gonzaga has this stigma of being a "finesse" or "soft" program. What do you think the main factors are in the increasing toughness that the Zags have demonstrated this season?
GP: Just confidence, I think. They walk on the court and they know they're good. They're not undersized or outmanned; they're not a one-man show or novelty act. This is a real-life, high-level basketball team with future pros. They're older and wiser and stronger, and I think that's what you're seeing, an older group of talented guys who believe they have the stuff to get to a Final Four. They have a certain swagger, and that's good.
TSSF: While North Carolina has become the consensus favorite to win the National Championship, many Gonzaga fans feel that this team actually matches up to UNC pretty well? Where would you rank GU as a contender for the Final 4, and how do you think the Zags match up with UNC?
GP: Gonzaga is clearly talented and good enough to make the Final Four, and if I was picking a Final Four today I'd have the Zags coming out of the West. I like the team. That should be the goal. But let's be clear: Nobody matches up well with North Carolina. I believe this Tar Heels team could go down as one of the best in history (outside of those ridiculous John Wooden teams), and so comparing anybody to them is a little off. But if you shift the conversation to trying to find the best team in the country not named North Carolina, I think Gonzaga is a strong candidate, right there with UConn.
TSSF: After sending 3 teams to the NCAA Tournament last year, the WCC seems to have regressed again this season. Do you see any programs in the WCC that can challenge Gonzaga on an annual basis?
GP: Not right now, no. I mean, Saint Mary's is nice, but Gonzaga is operating at another level, and that'll probably continue unless Mark Few moves on to Arizona or Oregon or wherever. If that happens, then the school must make the right hire to keep it going, because a wrong hire can run it into the ground. But as long as Mark is there, the Zags will be the class of the WCC, and probably win four out of five league titles every five years.
TSSF: In Austin Daye, this team has one of the elite scorers in the country. Do you think Austin is capable of carrying this team on his back come March? If you had to guess, do you think this will be Austin's last season in Spokane?
GP: This is Jeremy's team, far as I'm concerned. So Jeremy is the guy who will be doing the carrying, but Austin is a really talented kid, and I can see him popping for 25 in a Sweet 16 game, if that's what you mean. In other words, Jeremy will be the reason Gonzaga makes the Final Four, but Austin could be the reason the Zags when a particular game, if that makes sense. As for the NBA, yeah, I think that's coming. He'll take advantage of his perceived upside, Gonzaga's great season and a weak draft, and he'll be a Top 15 pick. I'd say there's an 85 percent chance of that happening, barring another injury.
TSSF: While Mark Few has the gaudy win percentage, what do you think specifically makes Mark Few one of the elite coaches in the country?
GP: He just gets it. He's one of my absolute favorite guys, because he's easy to talk to, hang with, so on and so forth, and if he's that way with me then you know he's also that way with players, which means he's also that way with recruits, which is a big part of this business. In short, he knows how to do more than coach; he knows how to run a program. And that ability has turned him into an elite coach and Gonzaga into an elite program.
TSSF: What would you define as a successful/unsuccessful season for this team?
GP: If you want to be an elite program, at some point you have to breakthrough, stay in the top five all season, go to a Final Four, etc. So that has to be the goal, to make the Final Four. I'm not saying it'll be a bad season if the Zags lose in the Sweet 16 on a buzzer-beater to Syracuse or something, because sometimes funny things happen in a win-or-go-home format. But this team is built to go to the Final Four, and that should be the focus.