What Mark Few said ahead of Team USA Basketball training camp

Gonzaga men’s basketball head coach discussed his role with Team USA, Gonzaga’s incoming transfer class and what it’ll be like competing against his former players at the Olympics
Photo by Erik Smith, Myk Crawford
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As an assistant coach with USA Basketball this summer at the Olympic Games in Paris, Mark Few might find himself conflicted if he runs into one of his former players.

The head coach of the Gonzaga men’s basketball program is more than likely to see one of the many international stars who have come through his doors over the years when Team USA strives for gold in Paris. Team Canada alone could very well feature three former Zags (Kelly Olynyk, Andrew Nembhard and Brandon Clarke); Rui Hachimura is a candidate to suit up for his home Japan; Filip Petrusev will compete for a spot on Team Serbia; Domantas Sabonis and Lithuania could be in Paris should they survive the FIBA Qualifiers. While it might be nice to see Gonzaga’s international footprint come together on the biggest stage, Few struggles with having to coach against and root for his old players at the same time in the heat of battle.

“It was strange last year when we played Kelly [in the bronze medal game at the FIBA World Cup],” Few said during media availability Tuesday. “It was strange, you know, you’re rooting for him but then obviously you want to win the game really really bad.”

Few, along with Team USA head coach Steve Kerr (Golden State Warriors) and assistants Erik Spoelstra (Miami Heat) and Tyronn Lue (Los Angeles Clippers), took home some valuable lessons from the American’s fourth-place finish at the World Cup last summer. The international game does not operate the same as the NBA game; it’s more physical and it’s more team-oriented than superstar-oriented. In some ways, it resembles the college game more than anything else.

“Going through last year was a great learning experience, it was extremely rewarding and then probably more so than that it was just great to be around such really, really good people,” Few said. “When you get us all together in a group, it’s a great learning environment for all of us, I think. The shared experiences of the whole group when you look around is pretty crazy.”

Here’s more of what Few had to say about Team USA and the Olympics, Gonzaga’s incoming transfer class and more from his media availability session at the McCarthey Athletic Center.

On Team Canada’s roster and the state of basketball around the world:

“Canada has a really, really talented roster and I think, I haven’t seen their whole roster yet, but, I assume it’s got 12 NBA guys on it or pretty close. And I think that’s what probably everybody needs to understand, you know, this thing is so much different than back in the day when the Dream Team and some of those teams came out. If you look at the All-NBA team this year, I think four of the five were not from the U.S. and they’ll all be playing for their other countries. The world has really caught up.”

On his duties as an assistant coach:

“It’s kinda fun going back to being an assistant. Spo and Ty and myself, we all split up the scouts and do it just like we do it here at Gonzaga … and we don’t have a bunch of grad aids so we end up working the dudes out after the game. I remember last year [at the FIBA World Cup] about two or three weeks in, we all came into one of the meetings like ‘God, does your elbow hurt? Mine’s killing me.’ And it was just from [practice]. I don’t do that here, just sit and rep out passes for guys and chase down rebounds and do whatever. So, it’s been interesting. I didn’t need to go back to appreciate what the assistants do here but it was a great reminder of just, what you end up doing all the time.”

On Gonzaga’s newest freshman Ismaila Diagne:

“I think he’s gonna run the floor great, I think he’s gonna end up being a great rim protector. He reminds me of Ronny Turiaf … he’s got a great attitude and just a real kind of positive bolt of energy. But then I think he’s got the size and frame … he’s something different that we just don’t have. But he’s young.”

On the state of college athletics:

“You either adapt or, basically you probably don’t survive so there’s no sense in complaining or wishing about the old days. We’re pretty much a leaderless ship right now in college athletics. I wish and I would hope that we could get to the point where they will allow a lot of us coaches that have been doing this and have been doing it the right way, there’s so many more of us than there are some guys that have done it the wrong way in both football and basketball that, I think that’s probably been the biggest issue.

And the downfall of what’s really hurt the NCAA is, we got too many committees and too much stuff going on, and they just need to listen to the guys that are dealing with it everyday. I think, unfortunately, we could’ve solved three-quarters of this and not been in this position, but we are now and now we can hopefully put this thing together and get a little more structure and organization to it and keep it that great fabric of American life that it is and not lose that.”


Produced by Thomas Gallagher.


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Cole Forsman


Cole Forsman is a reporter for Gonzaga Nation, a member of Sports Illustrated’s FanNation network. Cole holds a degree in Journalism and Sports Management from Gonzaga University.