SPOKANE, Wash. — Most people would term Stephen Gentry's return to the Gonzaga coaching staff as a homecoming. For him, it's a bit different.
"Everyone’s been asking, ‘How does it feel to be back?’ It really feels like I never left," said Gentry, who returned to Spokane this week.
When the rumors began that Tommy Lloyd was leaving Gonzaga, people far and wide asked Gentry if he was in communication with GU.
The answer was yes, but not in the way you’d expect, as Gentry talked to people around the program almost every day over the past two years while he was an assistant at Illinois.
That meant his first reaction to Tommy Lloyd leaving was elation for him, but then another emotion set in.
"You kind of take a step back and are like, ‘Well, wait. Now there’s an opportunity at my alma mater-- my dream gig-- and it’s like, ‘Wow, I would certainly love to go back,' recounted Gentry.
A few conversations with Mark Few later and Gentry is back.
This is his third time at Gonzaga as he was a walk-on from 2002-2006 and the Director of Basketball Operations from 2017-2019. He was an assistant at Illinois from 2019-2021 and this year he was in charge of Fighting Illini’s offense. That offense helped lead Illinois to a #1 NCAA Tournament seed.
The decision to return to Gonzaga wasn’t immediate, but two omens helped put Gentry over the top.
"I went to the eye doctor to get an updated eye exam. The bottom line that I had to read said Zags so I’m like, ‘Okay, that’s a sign.’ Then I finally was like, ‘Hey, it was a long year, I’ve got to get out of town and clear my mind and decide what to do.’ So I go to Arizona with my brother. We’re going to play golf and we get paired with two other people and they’re from Spokane. So it’s like, ‘Okay, God’s telling me what to do here and pointing me in the right direction,'" said Gentry with a grin.
Gentry has been several directions in his career as the majority of it he’s spent outside of Gonzaga’s program. Beyond Illinois, he's had stints at Stephen F. Austin, Texas A&M, and Oklahoma State.
That combination of having his feet both in and out of Gonzaga’s world is what excites him and Mark Few.
"I think I bring this great balance of knowing how this program used to be ran and the expectations that Coach Few has but also some new fresh ideas. I think that was the biggest thing that Coach Few and I talked about. I think he just really wants to lock into my creativity. I think that’s something I’m really big into is just my innovativeness, my creativity, especially on the offensive side," said Gentry.
That creativity he hopes lead Gonzaga to the last place the program hasn’t gone: Hoisting a national championship trophy.
It would mean a lot to Stephen to be on the first coaching staff to pull that off, but it’s more about the bigger picture for him.
"I think that’s what makes the program so unique and so special is the brotherhood amongst the different eras of the Zags. Some of my best friends are Zags I didn’t even play with. Richie Frahm is one my best friends. I didn’t play with him. I walk into the gym here on my first day. Eric McClellan is in the gym working out. I didn’t play with him. He gives me a big ole hug. There’s just a really cool connection between all these former Zags, so we would all take incredible pride if we were some day able to cut down the nets," said Gentry.