In any sport, there’s an origin story behind your fandom. This is mine. I grew up in the Bay Area. I played high school ball in one of the most competitive leagues in the state. I competed against Tyler Johnson and got dunked on by a young Aaron Gordon. I was recruited by local Division II schools, but I chose to end my playing career and go to Gonzaga. There’s no subject on earth I understand and analyze more than basketball. If all goes well, the plan is to help out a high school team in the Fall and begin a coaching career.
From the time I was 10, college basketball has always been my sport. I remember the Adam Morrison game vividly. I was furious that my local CBS station did not show the entire Gonzaga-Western Kentucky game and I had to find a link on my computer to watch Demetri Goodson’s game winner. I faked being sick in high school so I could stay home and watch the first two days of the tournament. I always wanted to go to a school where college basketball was king. When I first visited Gonzaga, I knew almost immediately that was where I wanted to spend my college years (2011-2015). People who aren’t part of the community will never, ever understand the family atmosphere the school cultivates.
I’ve been fortunate enough to work in television production for the last several years. I work every Gonzaga home game in some capacity, mostly inside the TV truck, often times arriving six hours prior to tip. I watch shootarounds and pre-game workouts. I spend a lot of time covering this program. I am a very realistic and analytical human being by nature. Ask my fiancee, and she’ll tell you I don’t show much emotion. Until this year, as a fan, the hope was always to make the second weekend, and then from there, you never know. The 2013 team was really good, but never Final Four good. Their number one ranking was a product of one of the worst college basketball seasons in two decades. I always felt something was missing from that team, though their exit was still much too early and an unfortunate end to Kelly Olynyk’s career. But I wasn’t super upset because I knew they would be back. The 2015 team was better than 2013. I thought if any team was finally going to break down that second weekend barrier, it was that one. And they did. Unfortunately, their late season loss to BYU may have cost them a 2 seed out west and instead they were shipped to Houston and had to play Duke in the Elite Eight. I was proud of that team. I think everyone was. They paved the way for what was to come the next four years.
As soon as Przemek Karnowski went down in 2016, we all knew that was going to be a transition year. Gonzaga had two impact transfers waiting in the wings (Nigel and J3), developing their game, a freshman point guard in Josh Perkins gaining valuable minutes, and a McDonald’s All-American coming in. Once Karnowski got a medical redshirt, the 2017 team was off and running. They broke through the glass ceiling. Shattered it, really. They made the Final Four and were one whistle and a basket away from winning the whole thing. Again, we were all proud. I also thought North Carolina was a better team. If they played a seven game series, UNC would have won it.
Looking at the roster, I thought this team was going to be right back in that title game in two years. So while the sting of the title game loss was real, I knew there was still more coming. Two more years of development for Rui Hachimura, Killian Tillie, Jeremy Jones, Josh Perkins, and Zach Norvell, and those dudes were going to take over the world. Then Brandon Clarke came along. I have no idea how many times I texted my dad watching this kid work out in his redshirt year. Just watching him, I knew he was going to be a superstar. I’ve never seen a better athlete in person.
And so that leads me to this season. With this roster. The greatest roster in Gonzaga history. The most talented, dynamic, and athletic team in Gonzaga history. This was the best team in the country this season. It still is. I have never picked Gonzaga to win it all in a bracket pool until this season. You put them in a seven game series against anyone, and they will win. But that’s not how the tournament works. It’s a cruel one-game showdown, where the best team doesn’t always win. Whoever is better for 40 minutes on one night moves on, and that happened to be Texas Tech on Saturday.
The reason this loss is the most painful loss in Gonzaga history is because it’s the end of an era. I don’t think I’ve ever invested so much emotion and energy into a single season than I did this one. This team was the one. We as fans knew it as soon as they beat Duke, maybe even earlier. The coaching staff knew it. The players knew it. It was the culmination of the last five years. And because the tournament is a fickle monster, the season ended short of the ultimate goal, as it does for every team but one.
And the emotion is not anger. It’s not frustration. It’s not even disappointment. No season that ends with a 33-4 record and an Elite Eight can ever, ever be considered a disappointment. What this program has built over the last 20 years is remarkable and every single one of us knows how special it is. It just kind of... sucks. It sucks that we never get to watch Josh Perkins, Rui Hachimura, Brandon Clarke, Jeremy Jones, Geno Crandall, and probably Killian Tillie ever put on a Gonzaga uniform again. It sucks watching an unselfish group of players who loved each other and played for each break down in tears. Those images of players consoling each other after the game are the hardest part of this whole thing. We’ll never feel a fraction of a percent of what they’re feeling. It sucks when something you want so bad is ripped out from under you, knowing that one more made three, or a different whistle, or an extra bounce would have kept the journey going. We wanted this so bad, not for our own fandom, but for those guys. The guys we fell in love with over the last several years.
You never know when a program will get to this elite level of talent, athleticism, and unselfishness ever again. Knowing this coaching staff, it’s probably going to be sooner rather than later. And maybe these next two recruiting classes pan out immediately and surprise us all with a Final Four run we didn’t expect. But for now, I wish I could watch this team play another game in Minneapolis. Because no team in Gonzaga history was more fun to watch than this group. I will look back fondly on this season and the moments it provided. Later this week, I’ll post a Top 10 Moments of the Season article. As fans, we seem to say this every season because we love this program... but this year, more than any other year, it really, really sucks that it’s over.
As an aside, I would like to thank everyone on this board for welcoming me as a writer this season. I’m grateful for all the comments and interactions on here and on Twitter (@SKarrG0). I hope you guys enjoyed This Week in Gonzaga History and my Film Room breakdowns. As long as Peter doesn’t hate me, and my schedule allows it, I will be back next season as we embark on whatever this new era of Gonzaga Basketball brings us. Go Zags forever.