I'm not sure if Mark Few is a romantic or this is just a total coincidence but, as a Gonzaga fan, there is no better way to end a decade away from home than playing a game at Madison Square Garden. In fact, it is just so fitting that this program is playing their final "road" game of the decade on the world's most famous basketball court. It is no secret that Mark Few has lived (and sometimes died) by the motto "anyone, anywhere, anytime". This coaching staff has chauffeured its players around the country in order to get recognition and build this program into a perennial power. Everyone knows that the 1999 season put this school on the map but when you look around at basketball and how mid-majors have struggled to stay relevant, it's easy to see that Mark Few's ability to sustain Gonzaga is by far his most outstanding accomplishment.
Mark Few began his head coaching tenure after the magical 1999 run. Dan Monson left the program for the University of Minnesota and basically everyone had written Gonzaga off as a one-hit wonder that would fall back into anonymity. Looking at the 1999-2000 schedule that the staff assembled, it was obvious they had big plans for the program. Imagine playing these four games in nine days: @ #1 Cincinnati, vs. #19 Temple in Chicago, @ #11 UCLA, and then @ Washington. Gonzaga played all four of these teams from December 4th-December 13th, 1999. Some of the players Gonzaga faced during this time included Kenyon Martin, Dermarr Johnson, Steve Logan, Lynn Greer, Jason Kapono, and Earl Watson. Just in case you were curious, Gonzaga went 2-2 during that stretch of games.
Now as we sit here on the verge of playing Duke at Madison Square Garden, it's obvious that nothing has really changed. Sure, we've got a cushy new gym, lots of new Nike stuff, and a reinvigorated campus but the way this team is built is still the same. A lot of people refer to Gonzaga as a sort of "microwave" program. In this ten year span, we've had our fair share of first round draft picks, a seemingly endless streak of tournament appearances, and gym time at some of the greatest stadiums in the country. The great thing is that not a whole lot of the program has been sacrificed to keep Gonzaga relevant and all the credit has to go to the dedication of Mark Few and the quality of assistants he has and the quality of players he has brought in.
I thought about writing a big decade wrap up piece where we talk about who was the most important person to this program and why but that would be nearly impossible to do. Pinpointing the success of your program on one person means that your program hasn't been that successful. You need to have a coach that is dedicated to the program and doesn't jump ship, you need a president that is willing to risk spending money, you need the support of the surrounding community, and you need players that fit the program and buy into the cause. Many people have tried to become "the next Gonzaga" but in today's college basketball world, what happened at Gonzaga can only be described as a perfect storm.
The silver lining to this whole story is that Mark Few's only 46, Spokane still loves their Zags, the talent is at an all-time high, and that all tells me that the future is VERY bright as we are about to begin a brand new decade of Gonzaga basketball.