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Charlotte’s Memories: Jim McPhee and being second best

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Jim McPhee is the little known second-highest scorer in Gonzaga history.

Welcome to an offseason recurring piece, where we visit the lesser-known heroes of Gonzaga lore. The pieces are called Charlotte's Memories as an ode to the old Kennel, where many of these players called home for years.

Ask most Gonzaga fans, even the newest ones, who the leading scorer on the team is, and chances are you will get the correct answer: Frank Burgess.

Ask most Gonzaga fans, even some of the older guard, who the second leading scorer on the team is, and chances are you might get a mix of answers.

That is because, as some over zealous YMCA parent probably said somewhere, second is the first loser. Everyone knows that Frank Burgess scored 2,196 points and is in the Gonzaga record books for that, and a lot of other scoring records, that probably won’t fall for quite some time.

Jim McPhee, who was a Gonzaga guard from 1986-1990, sits second on Gonzaga’s list with 2,015 points. So the question is, who is Jim McPhee?

Jim McPhee hailed from another Jesuit high school across the state, Bellarmine Prep out of Tacoma. He was also the second-consecutive McPhee brother to come and play for Gonzaga. His older brother played with the Zags in 1981-1985.

It was almost a bit of a fluke that the younger McPhee even ended up at Gonzaga. Jim McPhee had been garnering interest from both Stanford and USC. But they stopped their recruitment of him after he broke his foot in his senior year of high school. Marquette was in the picture as well, but they still wanted McPhee to take a visit.

Meanwhile, there was Gonzaga, the school that Jim McPhee needed no tour of, because he had taken plenty in the four years while his brother attended school. Dan Fitzgerald, the Gonzaga coach at the time, didn’t have to do too much to land the younger McPhee.

As Fitzgerald told John Blanchette with the then Spokane Chronicle, “Either we’re not very good, or everybody else missed.”

It was pretty clear it was the latter in the case of McPhee. He became the first Zags to start as a freshman since 1978 and averaged 10.7 points in the process. He won all-conference honors as a sophomore, but suffered a torn ligament his junior year.

But McPhee came back with a vengeance. He averaged 20 points in his redshirt junior year, trying to buoy a team alongside Doug Spradley that didn’t have a whole lot of air in the tank. Gonzaga would go 3-11 in conference play that season.

In the 1989-90 season, McPhee made his run for the record books. He averaged 23.3 points per game, shooting 54 percent from the floor, 46.8 percent from beyond the arc, and 83.1 percent from the free throw line. He had two games with over 30 points and 21 games with over 20 points. All of this came despite the fact the Zags that year were pretty much Jim McPhee and Others. After his 23.3 points, the second highest scorer on that squad was Bret Holmdahl at 11.2 points per game. When all was said and done, McPhee would sit well behind Burgess’ record, but McPhee had entered into his own special lore of Gonzaga history.

He is tied for third with a host of other players for third-most assists in a game (12). He was a three-time All WCC selection. His 23.6 points per game are the fourth-highest average in a year. He is one of eight players in school history to score 40 ore more points in a game. He is second in school history for total number of field goals made (774). He would be the only freshman to start for the Zags for over a decade, until Blake Stepp arrived in town in 2000.

McPhee gave the NBA a solid shot, but his skills in college couldn’t translate into the professional game. He returned to Gonzaga to pursue a law degree and graduated cum laude with his J.D. in 1996. He is the President, chair and co-founder of the Dan Fitzgerald Memorial Basketball Tournament, a high school basketball tournament that has helped raise over $100,000 to benefit various Spokane charities.