A favorite past time of sports fans is to engage in hypothetical scenarios involving their favorite teams. A favorite scenario is discussing what the best iteration of said sports fans favorite team is based on the team’s entire player pool. People have different definitions of what best can be in this discussion. Is it an all-star team? Or rather, the best fitting five guys who can play together? Well, let’s try to figure it out, but with a slight tweak.
The Concept: Select a Gonzaga starting five that fields a single representative from each of the last five decades (2010s, 2000s, 1990s, 1980s, 1970s). For each player, pick a season to represent their form (for example, if Domantas Sabonis is your representative for the 2010s, you would probably want to select 15-16 Sabonis over the 14-15 version, although I’m sure the 14-15 Domas was a lovely fellow). Additionally, you may want to put together a reasonable starting five, so it wouldn’t be prudent to field five guards in the starting lineup, although YOLO.
Without further ado, here’s the five I put together:
Guard: John Stockton (1983-1984, Senior) - 20.9ppg, 7.2apg, 2.4rpg, 57.7 FG%, 69.2 FT%
A college and NBA legend, John Stockton was a gifted passer and fiery competitor who still holds the NBA’s records for most career assists (15,806) and steals (3,265). It was Stockton who first made me aware of Gonzaga’s existence, so hat tip to him for that. Stockton is the quintessential floor leader and apparently such a master of the basketball dark arts that Steve Kerr felt compelled to call him “a dirty bastard.”
Stockton completed his four-year collegiate career as Gonzaga’s all time leader in assists (554) and was sixth in scoring (1,340 points). While he has since dropped to fourth and 22nd in those respective rankings, Stockton can still be easily considered as one of Gonzaga’s all-time greats, following in the footsteps of his grandfather Houston Stockton who had a notable collegiate football career for Gonzaga in the 1920s.
In Stockton’s 83-84 senior campaign, he led the then-named West Coast Athletic Conference in points, assists, and steals on his way to being named the conference MVP. Stockton always played with incredible control and understanding of the game, but it’s easy to forget how quick and lethal he was on the court. Gonzaga formally retired his jersey in February 2004, but no one has worn a No. 12 for Gonzaga since Stockton left in 1984.
Guard: Richie Frahm (1998-1999, Junior) - 14.4ppg, 2.0apg, 4.3rpg, 43.7 FG%, 78.8 FT%
Frahm and fellow backcourt mate, Matt Santangelo, led Gonzaga to its first Elite 8 in the 1999 NCAA tournament, a year before Mark Few took over the program. Frahm was a sharpshooting guard, and it’s easy to imagine how many good looks he would get while sharing the floor with the rest of this all-time team. I considered placing a defensive wing-stopper at this spot, but hey, this is a fantasy team and this squad is going to light up the scoreboard. The senior season edition of Frahm had a better overall stat-line, but to comply with the rules of this exercise the junior season edition will be put on this team.
In the last few years, Frahm has reportedly taken up competitive cycling; but, before he got on the bike he had a long and nomadic professional basketball career that took him through five NBA cities and many more locales around the world.
Forward: Greg Sten (1972-1973, Senior) - 17.7ppg, 1.5apg, 11.4rpg, 48.9 FG%, 82.0 FT%
Despite being listed at 6’7” and only playing three years of varsity basketball (Freshman were required to play on the JV team during his era), Sten produced big-time rebounding numbers over the course of his collegiate career, averaging over 10 rebounds per game in his three seasons on the varsity squad. Sten’s arrival to the varsity team helped reverse a 3-year slide in which Gonzaga failed to finish with a .500 record or better. Sten’s senior campaign in 72-73 saw him produce Domantas Sabonis like numbers and helped propel him to a pro career in Spain where he played for 3 years before joining the Navy.
Forward: Adam Morrison (2005-2006, Junior) - 28.1ppg, 1.7apg, 5.5rpg, 49.6 FG%, 77.2 FT%)
Adam Morrison’s NBA career may be many people’s last basketball impression of him, but that shouldn’t take away from his 2005-06 season which was truly one for the ages. Paired against a worthy antagonist in Duke’s J.J. Redick, Morrison seemed to spend the year dueling his east coast counterpart in the box score, and college basketball fans of any persuasion were better off for it.
Morrison’s scoring output in his junior campaign was absolutely absurd, notching five 40+ point games and an additional eight 30+ point games while still maintaining an excellent shooting percentage, which usually takes the back seat when players shoulder the scoring load. Had Morrison stayed at Gonzaga for his final year of eligibility, he would almost assuredly have finished his career as the school’s all-time leading scorer (he finished 329 points behind Frank Burgess). But alas, he’ll have to settle for Gonzaga’s all-time points record for a single season with his 926 points from 05-06.
Off the court, Morrison may be one of the more misunderstood stars to ever play college or NBA basketball, but there’s no denying how great he was at Gonzaga.
Center: Domantas Sabonis (2015-2016, Sophomore) - 17.6ppg, 1.8apg, 11.8rpg, 61.1 FG%, 76.9FT%
The 2010s were probably the hardest decade to choose from—most likely because of recency bias. But, there has been a near embarrassment of riches in frontcourt players at Gonzaga over the last six years to choose from. I very much wanted to put Przemek Karnowski here since he’s a personal favorite of mine, plus from a basketball sense he would probably balance out this starting 5 more than any other player. However, I simply couldn’t ignore the season Domantas Sabonis put together during his second and final year in Spokane.
Sabonis carries many of the characteristics of the modern basketball big man, while still maintaining the rugged throwback playing style of his father’s era. Bereft of the length desired by scouts (that narrative will probably never die), Sabonis makes it up for it with great awareness on both ends of the floor and is strong enough to battle for position on the interior, while agile enough to stop out on the wing to cover stretch-fours or defend the pick-and-roll. However, it’s his relentless energy that catches the eye and wears down opponents. Sabonis produced some stunning efforts in the 2015-16 season highlighted by a 36-point effort against Tennessee and a 35-pointer against San Francisco, and the very enjoyable shut-down performance against Utah’s Jakob Poeltl in the Round of 32.
Sabonis running the pick-and-roll/pop with John Stockton makes me simultaneously giggle with glee and cry hysterically that we were denied such a devastating attack. Maybe we’ll see it someday when this team takes the floor in a Gonzaga alumni event. Make it happen basketball gods!
So there you have it, my version of Gonzaga’s all-decade starting five. Let’s see some more lineups and your reasons why in the comments section below.