The maneuver was so calculated. Dribbling on the perimeter, Gonzaga’s David Stockton waited for a high screen to emerge.
But instead of rubbing off it too quickly, Stockton patiently waited as other teammates moved to clear the lane.
Once he saw an opening, Stockton — in one flowing act — charged into the lane and got off an easy layup before the defense could converge to take a swipe at the shot.
At courtside for the West Coast Conference men’s basketball tournament, an NBA scout shook his head. “That,” he said, “was like watching vintage John Stockton.”
The second-youngest son of the former 10-time NBA All-Star and Hall of Famer has heard that comparison his entire life — and moreso because he not only attended the same high school (Gonzaga Prep) as his father, but also was the only one to play at the same college (Gonzaga University).
The Zags open the NCAA Division I tournament Friday as the No. 8 seed in the Midwest Region and will play ninth-seeded Oklahoma State in San Diego.
With Kevin Pangos visibly not himself after suffering an Achilles injury earlier in the year, and Gary Bell Jr. still not the consistent “shot hunter” Zags coach Mark Few would prefer him to be, a case could be made that David Stockton right now is the team’s most vital backcourt contributor at point guard.
“He has had game after game after game this year where we’ve been in trouble or struggled, and he has literally carried us,” Few said.
The 5-foot-11, 165-pound senior has easily had his best season — 7.5 points, 4.2 assists and 1.6 steals in 28 minutes per game.
And he has seen an uptick in production lately, averaging 9.4 points, 5.0 assists, 4.2 rebounds and 1.9 steals over the past five games. He easily could have been voted the WCC tournament’s most valuable player after hitting the last-second game-winner in the quarterfinals against Santa Clara, tallying a game-high 21 points in a 70-54 semifinal victory against Saint Mary’s, then controlling the floor at both ends in the 75-64 win over BYU in the title game.
A reporter asked him after the tournament if this was the best stretch of basketball he had ever played at Gonzaga.
“Yeah, I think we have to,” Stockton said. “If we want to go far in the (NCAA) tournament ... we have to play a bit better.”
And that is where it is plainly obvious the apple has not fallen far from the tree. Besides the cagey on-court moves, this Stockton talks in the same tone — using the same collective pronouns — his father once did.
“He is a top-of-the-food-chain competitor,” Few said. “There aren’t any better guys competing. And he is unbelievably resilient — he does not get hurt, does not miss practice, and in our most physical rebounding drills, he is always fighting, scratching and clawing.”
David Stockton was a two-sport standout at Spokane’s Gonzaga Prep. He was the starting quarterback running the Bullpups’ option offense. And he was the first-string point guard for a basketball squad that finished fourth at the Class 4A state championships in 2009.
Few wanted Stockton, but because of his slight build — he was 5-10, 140 — the teenager was given only the chance as an invited walk-on.
“We weren’t going to offer him a scholarship, but there were things about him we liked and valued,” Few said. “So we told him the story about other guys who came in — Kyle Bankhead, for example — and played their way into scholarships and into the starting lineup.”
It did not surprise Gonzaga Prep basketball coach Matty McIntyre that Stockton decided to take that route.
“He is a fearless kid,” said McIntyre, who was Stockton’s junior varsity coach at the time. “He will challenge anybody.”
Stockton redshirted with the Zags in 2009-10, then played in 102 games during his first three seasons —
100 of them coming off the bench. He was put on scholarship early in 2011.
This season, he has started all 34 of the Zags’ games. The longer the season has gone, the better he has played.
“Yeah, I feel when I am ... in the zone, I know I can get wherever I want to, or I can penetrate in the lane and make those passing lanes happen,” Stockton said. “That is where I feel I am at my best.”
Just like his father?
“He is the best point guard who has ever played,” Stockton said. “For somebody (like an NBA scout) to say I play like him is an honor. I wished they actually meant it and wanted to draft me. I would be more than happy to play for them if he was serious.”