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Reporter's notebook: Gonzaga men's basketball brought us joy during a dark time

KREM 2's Karthik Venkataraman explains what this team and its players meant to people during a global pandemic.
Credit: AP
Gonzaga guard Jalen Suggs (1) celebrates making the game winning basket against UCLA during overtime in a men's Final Four NCAA college basketball tournament semifinal game, Saturday, April 3, 2021, at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis. Gonzaga won 93-90. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

SPOKANE, Wash. — I can't believe this season has come to an end for Gonzaga men's basketball.

It began and finished in what felt like a blink of an eye in the craziest season ever. There was a lot of speculation about if we'd have a season due to the coronavirus pandemic or what it would like if we did.

The season happened and it was weird.

That being said, it was as magical as it gets for Gonzaga men's basketball, even if they didn't win the national championship.

This team was about as special as they come and it came at a time when maybe people needed them the most. The Bulldogs made people believe in something spectacular in times when life didn't have ideal circumstances.

What they accomplished on the court was truly incredible. They neatly capped off a perfect season. The Zags torched almost every team they played by double digits, doing it for an NCAA record of 27 games straight in the process.

Gonzaga achieved another 30-win season, setting a NCAA record for doing that five seasons in a row. They reached the Sweet 16 for a sixth straight year, the Elite 8 for a fourth season in the last six and made it to the national title game two times in the last four years.

There is only one way to describe them on the court and that word is historic.

However, that's not what entirely made them special. What made it even more special was the players on this team.

As a senior, Corey Kispert came into his own as a leader. From the first time I interviewed him in his sophomore year, I could tell how well-spoken he was. What I didn't know was how he could lead a team on and off the court the way he has.

The guy was a First Team Senior CLASS All-American, which is given for achievement in the classroom, community, character, and competition.

He is all class, mature, so respectful and so darn good at basketball. Simply put, he's someone people can look up to and say, "I want to be like him."

RELATED: Gonzaga's Corey Kispert, Drew Timme claim Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame awards

Gonzaga head coach Mark Few called Kispert the poster child for Zags basketball throughout the season has. Not only did he grow into a well-reounded basketball player, but everyone who knows Kispert will tell you he's an even better person.

Forward Drew Timme is unlike any person I have ever met. He has a way about him that's just cool.

He played with so much confidence on the court and also had so much fun with it in the process. The different facial hair for any given game was something that got the fans going.

RELATED: Drew Timme's mustache has helped spotlight his dynamic play

Few spoke before Gonzaga's game in the Final Four against UCLA about how to keep a team loose when game time is so far away.

"Having a Drew Timme on your team, that's a great way to keep everyone loose," he said.

We got to see a once in a lifetime talent with Jalen Suggs this season. The way that guy can pass the ball is absurd. His explosiveness with his movement is equally impressive.

The guard would never give up. He would do everything in his power to win and delivered so many clutch moments, most notably the game-winning heave against UCLA.

RELATED: WATCH: Jalen Suggs' miracle buzzer beater lifts Gonzaga over UCLA in Final Four overtime

The thing I loved most about Suggs was how vulnerable he was through it all. He let his guard down when talking to media and when he showed emotion and it's so refreshing to see.

The way he responded to questions in press conferences was so fun. He always smiled. He's just a stellar human.

It's sad to see him have to walk off the court in his final game in tears. That's a side of him I had never seen and frankly never thought I would — at least through his collegiate career.

Joel Ayayi is about as entertaining of a guy as you can get. He didn't always show it as much when we spoke with him but it was evident he was the team prankster.

Through the NCAA Tournament he would knock-knock ditch other players' hotel doors and hide behind walls to scare people.

His personality really shined through with the team and it always provided for a great laugh.

Even a guy like Julian Strawther, who didn't play much, was one of the funniest players on the team. He's so active on social media that you could really see who he was even though we didn't see him much on the court.

The brotherhood these players formed was amazing during a time when their lives were purely basketball and isolation. In a way, I believe the pandemic brought them closer than they might have been had there not been one.

It truly was a team unlike any other in a season unlike any other. When I went to cover games in the McCarthey Athletic Center this year, it definitely was different without fans but the team definitely captured my attention. 

What we witnessed this season is nothing to ever take for granted. I know it meant a lot to me to be part of a belief that a team could achieve something very few teams in the history of college basketball could. 

It truly was one heck of a season with a cast of characters that will never be forgotten. It was a story people needed in times like these.

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