SPOKANE -- The 13th season of the Mark Few era tipped off Friday evening as Gonzaga University’s men’s basketball team officially began practice in preparation for a grueling season ahead.
“It’s always a good time around here,” Few said of the first day of practice. “It’s a little deceiving with the new rules; we’ve been practicing at least once a week since September fifteenth. Now we get a little routine, some regular workouts and see if we can’t make some jumps.”
Few, who is beginning his 23rd year overall in the program after serving 10 years as an assistant coach, welcomed back two seniors who played a big role in Gonzaga’s run to an 11th straight West Coast Conference regular-season title and a 13th straight trip to the NCAA Tournament in center Robert Sacre and guard Marquise Carter. Sacre is the top returning scorer at 12.5 ppg and rebounder at 6.3 rpg. Carter, who came on late in the season to take over the point guard spot and earn WCC Tournament MVP honors, averaged 6.3 ppg and 2.1 assists/game with a 1.9 assist/turnover ratio.
Sacre is undoubtedly the senior leader.
“It’s a great thing to have Rob around, in the program and hopefully he’ll have a fitting senior year to what’s been a great career. Rob plays with a high level of intensity when it’s time, has a good time when it’s not. I love his enthusiasm and his zest for life. He picks us all up when he enters the gym,” Few said of the gregarious Sacre.
The Bulldogs also return guards Mathis Mönninghoff, Mathis Keita, David Stockton, and Michael Hart, all of whom made contributions last season. Stockton became a steadying influence as a back-up at the point, while Mönninghoff gave the Bulldogs a long-range threat off the bench as he was second on the team in 3-point field goals made with 33. Keita had four starts among his 23 appearances and Hart was a blue collar worker off the bench.
If the Bulldogs have a strength heading into the season it would be with the bigs.
In addition to Sacre the Bulldogs return 6-7 Elias Harris, a 2012 John R. Wooden Award Preseason Top 50 candidate; Sam Dower, who averaged 7.6 ppg and 3.3 rpg in 35 games off the bench last season, and Kelly Olynyk, who averaged 5.8 ppg and 3.8 rpg mostly off the bench last season. Olynyk, who joins Sacre in stretching the tape to 7-0, also gained valuable experience this past summer with the Canadian Men’s Senior National Team at the 2001 FIBA Americas Championship.
“Our big guys are experienced and did a nice job in the off season of getting themselves in ever better shape than they were. They did a nice job of expanding their games,” Few said.
The veterans will be joined by 6-6 forward Guy Landry Edi who transferred from Midland, Texas, Junior College and played for the Ivory Coast which came up short in earning a spot for the FIBA Americas Championship in last summer’s Africa qualifying tournament, and 6-8 Ryan Spangler, a freshman from Blanchard, Okla.
“The new guys are a good core group. They are really complete, have a good feel for the game, shoot the ball well and seem to be good listeners,” Few said.
A young group of guards also joins the Bulldogs. Gary Bell, Jr., is a freshman from Kentridge High in Kent, Wash., where he was named Mr. Basketball for the state of Washington, Kevin Pangos comes to the Bulldogs from Denison Secondary School in Newmarket, Ontario, and Kyle Dranginis was a two-time Gatorade Idaho Player of the Year from Skyview High in Nampa, Idaho. Chris Sarbaugh, a product of Spokane’s Gonzaga Prep, joins the team as a walk-on after earning MVP accolades while leading the Bullpups to last year’s Washington State 4A Tournament title.
"They are just young. They have to grow into everything. It takes time to get adjusted at this level, but they are certainly willing,” Few said of the newcomers.
The Bulldogs went 25-10 last season and advanced to the NCAA Tournament Third Round. But the Bulldogs had to win their last seven WCC regular-season games – including a big win at Saint Mary’s College – to keep the string of WCC regular-season titles alive. Gonzaga won both games of the WCC Tournament to earn a 13th straight trip to the NCAA Tournament and then upset St. John’s University in the NCAA Second Round.
Few hopes the momentum from the stretch run of last year carries over to this season.
“We try to do that every year,” Few said of the goals of winning the conference and playing in the NCAA Tournament. “This year’s team is starting from scratch and they have to establish their identity. It will be different than it was last year. They have to carve their way through another tough schedule and see if they can continue the legacy of what the groups before them have accomplished.”
The Gonzaga schedule features home games against the likes of the University of Notre Dame, Michigan State University and Butler University in the McCarthey Athletic Center. In addition the Bulldogs will face the University of Arizona in the Battle in Seattle, and travel to the University of Illinois.
"It’s an incredible home schedule. I would guess nobody in the country has a non-league schedule that can rival that. When it’s all said and done I think it will be our highest strength of schedule we’ve ever had. There’s no dogs in there. Even the guarantee games are against teams picked to win their conference, so it’s going to be rough. We’ll have to be ready to go every night, especially with our youth at the guard spot,” Few said.