Funny the things you come across when you tidy up.
On Sunday night, after covering Gonzaga’s win over Iowa, which earned the Zags their sixth Sweet 16 berth during their 17th consecutive NCAA tournament appearance, I moved to the garbage a box of old newspaper clippings.
(Boys and girls, news used to be printed on paper and delivered to your doorstep many hours after the events occurred. If you wanted to save these stories, you actually had to, physically, “cut and paste” them.)
The top clipping in the box was a column I did in March 1994, for the Spokane Spokesman-Review, about Gonzaga’s first appearance in a Division I postseason tournament.
The dateline was Manhattan, Kansas, where the Zags lost 66-64 to Kansas State in the NIT second round, after having upset Stanford in the opening round.
When the Zags arrived at their hotel in Kansas, the sign out front read “Welcome Stanford.”
Management apparently hadn’t gotten the word that some unknown entity called Gonzaga had managed to win a postseason game.
One of the underpaid assistants on that staff was Mark Few, who now has the highest winning percentage among active head coaches in college basketball, having won more than 80 percent of his games since taking over 16 seasons ago.
In press conferences last week, it was revealed that Polish center Przemek Karnowski chose Gonzaga because assistant coach Tommy Lloyd had recruited him so diligently in Europe.
Just one of those trips overseas would have broken the recruiting budget Few and Dan Monson and Billy Grier used to have while assisting late Gonzaga head coach Dan Fitzgerald.
During interviews for a book I did on GU hoops in 2004, Few recalled what recruiting used to be like in his early days at the school.
Sometimes, he’d be sent on the road for 30 days and given $200 for his expenses. His best trick was to plan his itinerary based on the areas where his buddies from better-funded programs would be recruiting. He’d call them and mooch a night on the couch in their hotel rooms to save expenses.
“We used to sleep in the rental car, too,” Few said.
In those cases, the car served as his changing room, and he was once interrogated by a cop who caught him in a parking lot — in just his skivvies and socks — changing into his “home visit” suit.
Few said he took 10 minutes trying to explain that he was a basketball coach from Gonzaga, “which, at the time, gave me about zero credibility,” he said.
That was because so few people had ever heard of Gonzaga. “I used to always have to spell it out,” Few said. “And people would respond, ‘Gonzales? I never heard of Gonzales University.’ ”
Even when they ended up in a recruit’s living room, Gonzaga and Spokane were sometimes a tough sell.
Few recalled a home visit once when Monson was extolling the wonders of a Gonzaga education and enumerating the many thrilling attractions in Spokane, when Few noticed the recruit’s father sinking deeper into his recliner.
Monson finally got the message when the father started snoring audibly. “The dad falling asleep on us was kind of the ultimate compliment on the quality of our presentation,” Few said.
When Few arrived as a grad assistant in 1990, the Zags finished last in the conference with an 8-20 record.
But the players on the team two seasons later were so confident of their potential that they made a deal with the assistants — Monson, Few, Grier and Jerry Krause — that if they could get 20 wins, the staff would go to a bridge near campus and leap into the Spokane River.
The Zags won 20 that season, as they have all but twice in the 23 seasons since then. And, despite cold temperatures and heavy April runoff, the four coaches jumped off Centennial Bridge into the river.
Few has been key to the Zags’ remarkable journey — from the days of sleeping in rental cars to national prominence on an annual basis.
So he and his staff don’t have to be so risky with their motivational ploys these days.
Of course, he’s no longer coaching at Gonzales University.