The Times West Virginian

Bob Herzel

December 10, 2013

HERTZEL COLUMN- Gonzaga brings excitement to WVU Coliseum

MORGANTOWN — Gonzaga comes to the Coliseum today to face West Virginia in a 9 p.m. game televised nationally on ESPN2 and, like it or not, it is Gonzaga and not the Mountaineers that has the star power to make this an attractive national game.

The Bulldogs have gone to the NCAA Tournament for 15 straight years, have had Adam Morrison win national player of the year and have sent guard John Stockton not only to the NBA but also to the Basketball Hall of Fame.

Not bad for a private Catholic university with an undergraduate enrollment of 4,835 students that has not fielded a football team since 1941.

How does a small, private school like that become a national power in basketball?

“It’s in a great city,” West Virginia coach Bob Huggins says first. “Spokane, Wash., is a great city. Everyone up there talks about what a great city Spokane is. They have a great airport, so you can get kids in and out of there. They’re in an area that wasn’t recruited until recently. People didn’t recruit Portland and Seattle. That, plus they have done a great job with their foreign connection.”

A great airport?

Oh, man, I hope WVU football coach Dana Holgorsen doesn’t read this or he’ll be asking the administration to build him a big-time airport in addition to a new meeting room, a turf practice field and a new indoor facility.

Gonzaga started basketball in 1907-08 but did not find its way to the NCAA Tournament until the 1995 season under Dan Fitzgerald, who was also athletic director.

In 1997 he turned the coaching job over to Dan Monson so he could concentrate on being athletic director, Fitzgerald leading Gonzaga to a conference regular-season title, but the best they could do was get an NIT bid.

The following season they would push their way into the national consciousness, earning a No. 10 seed in the NCAAs and then proceeding to defeat Minnesota, Stanford and Florida, 73-72, on a last-second tip.

Just when they appeared to be that year’s Cinderella team in the regional finals, they came across the eventual national champion Connecticut Huskies. Trailing by just a point with a minute to play, they ran out of pixie dust before losing, 67-62.

Such success got Monson the head coaching job at Minnesota with Mark Few taking over the job he still holds today, 15 years and 382 wins later.

“Few has done a great job with it. They’ve had a lot of stability there and an unbelievable fan base,” Huggins said.

The fan base started with a small arena that was always packed.

“When they moved into the other bigger place, it continued because it had become the winter thing to do in Spokane,” Huggins said.

Indeed, it was the thing to do.

Monson — upon finishing his coaching career, came back to Spokane, as did Jud Heathcote, known for winning a national championship at Michigan State as Magic Johnson’s coach — began his career coaching high school basketball for 14 years in Spokane.

“Who would ever have thought Jud would go back to Spokane, but he’s there at every game, and just having John Stockton grow up and go to school there didn’t hurt them any,” Huggins said.

Neither did having Adam Morrison as the centerpiece on the 2006 team that went to the Sweet 16.

“They have the profile of what it takes to get something like that going,” Huggins said. “Obviously, everyone doesn’t do it, but they have the resources to be able to do that.”

Actually, Gonzaga’s formula is similar to many basketball schools that have built themselves into national powers.

Think of it for a minute ... St. John’s, Villanova, Georgetown ... all of them in great cities with great airports, a strong recruiting base and a lot of resources.

The formula works, sometimes to different degrees, for there are similar schools following the same approach that have worked to different degrees. We’re talking Duquesne, St. Louis, Detroit, St. Bonaventure ... all of them at one time players on the national scene and able to compete with schools from the big football conferences.

In many ways this is what makes college basketball and the NCAA Tournament what it is. The power schools often recruit players who stay a year or two while these other schools have more stability in their rosters so that a VCU or a George Mason or Gonzaga can come along and play deeply into the tournament and capture the imagination of a nation.

Follow Bob Hertzel on Twitter @bhertzel.

Text Only
Bob Herzel
  • WVU, N.C. State to meet in football

    Following a trend of creating non-conference games against regional opponents, West Virginia University has reached agreement with North Carolina State to play a home-and-home football series in 2018 and 2019.
    The Mountaineers are scheduled to play N.C. State in Raleigh on Sept. 15, 2018, and then play host to the Wolfpack on Sept. 14, 2019.

    July 24, 2014

  • HERTZEL COLUMN: ‘Cheating pays’ remark should draw attention

    When Bob Bowlsby, the outspoken commissioner of the Big 12, presented his opening-day picture of the future of college sports in Dallas for the annual media day gathering, his bleak comments were not unexpected.

    July 24, 2014

  • Holgorsen’s program hits turning point

    You can almost sense, as you watch West Virginia University football coach Dana Holgorsen sit before the gathered Big 12 media contingent answering questions in the Omni Hotel in Arlington, Texas, that he senses his program has reached a turning point.

    July 23, 2014

  • Big 12 Media Days Foo_time(1).jpg Trickett’s play key factor for Mountaineers’ success

     In the end, it comes down to the quarterback.
    Always has with Dana Holgorsen, always will.
    Quarterback is the offense with the West Virginia University coach. When he does well, the team wins – almost always.
    When he does poorly, the team doesn’t stand much of a chance.

    July 23, 2014 1 Photo

  • Saban, family happy at Alabama

    Alabama football coach Nick Saban, whose team opens the season against West Virginia in Atlanta on Aug. 30, denied receiving or turning down this offseason an offer of $100 million to coach Texas, indicating he planned to finish his career as coach of the Crimson Tide.

    July 18, 2014

  • HERTZEL COLUMN: ‘Quarterback child prodigy’ comes to WVU amidst very high expectations

    Has West Virginia football coach Dana Holgorsen finally put the arrow he needs in his quiver with the commitment received Wednesday from high school quarterback David Sills, who is a rather extraordinary story and may also just be a rather extraordinary quarterback?

    July 18, 2014

  • WVU kicker Molinari ‘All-American boy’

    West Virginia kicker Mike Molinari may not be an All-American but he is an All-American boy.
    He was honored for that on Wednesday when the Allstate Insurance Company and the American Football Coaches Association announced the West Virginia redshirt senior kicker/punter Michael Molinari is a nominee for the Allstate AFCA Good Works Team.

    July 16, 2014

  • HERTZEL COLUMN: Smallwood puts future in jeopardy

    The last thing West Virginia’s struggling football program needed as twilight was setting on Bastille Day in Morgantown was to have one of its own whisked off to the North Central Regional Jail on a fugitive warrant from another state, especially a player who had figured to play a key role in the resurrection of a program gone bad.

    July 16, 2014

  • WVU player arrested in Delaware case

    West Virginia University running back Wendell Smallwood has been arrested by university police and is being held at North Central Regional Jail awaiting extradition on a felony warrant out of Delaware.

    July 15, 2014

  • WVU hoping to add two non-conference contests

    West Virginia is nearing the completion of deals to play football games against long-time rival Virginia Tech, now in the Atlantic Coast Conference, and Tennessee of the Southeastern Conference, according to a source close to the negotiations.
    An announcement is expected shortly.

    July 15, 2014

House Ads
Featured Ads