It has become a familiar story: Young coach has success at a
small school and takes his team deep into the NCAA tournament.
Large school then swoops in with the promise of a lucrative
contract and abundant resources. Normally that's when the coach
jumps to the big time. But for the second straight year Gonzaga
coach Mark Few turned down the overtures of larger schools and
chose to stay with the Zags. In 2001 he spurned Wisconsin and
Tennessee, and after last season he said no thanks to Washington.
"Why can't we have a top-level program right here at Gonzaga?"
says Few. "Every year we take steps that small schools aren't
supposed to be taking."
After going 29-4 and finishing the regular season ranked sixth,
expectations are at an alltime high at the 4,765-student Jesuit
school in Spokane. Gonzaga must replace All-America point guard
Dan Dickau, but the Zags may have a more balanced team. Both
Blake Stepp, a 6'4" playmaking junior with a sweet jumper, and
6-foot Winston Brooks, a cat-quick senior who missed most of last
season with a fractured right wrist, can play the point and
shooting guard positions. As good as Gonzaga's guards are,
however, its strength will be a bruising front line that should
be among the nation's best. The formidable duo of senior
All--West Coast Conference forward Zach Gourde (6'8", 249 pounds)
and junior center Cory Violette (6'8", 255) will receive an added
boost from reserves Ronny Turiaf (6'9", 228), a sophomore
forward, and hulking Colorado transfer Richard Fox (6'11", 289).
"There will be no excuse for not going hard," says Violette,
"because there will be someone on the bench just as good to take
Violette, who went unrecruited by most bigger schools as a high
school senior but has become a Wooden Award candidate heading
into this season, is a poster boy for the Zags' improbable rise
to prominence. Knowing that his school can't match the
heavyweights in recruiting, Few has looked to sign second-tier
players who have a strong desire to improve. "We demand a lot
here in terms of individual player development," says Few. "If a
kid has ability and really buys into getting better, the sky is
the limit." --John O'Keefe
November 25, 2002
POS. PLAYER HT. CL. KEY STAT
PF Zach Gourde 6'8" Sr. 13.2 ppg
SF Tony Skinner 6'5" Jr. 15.4 ppg*
C Cory Violette 6'8" Jr. 8.3 rpg
SG Blake Stepp 6'4" Jr. 9.2 ppg
PG Winston Brooks 6'0" Sr. 2.9 apg
* In junior college
2001-02 RECORD: 29-4 (13-1, T1 in West Coast)
TOURNAMENT: Lost to Wyoming in 1st round
Victories as Zags coach for Mark Few, the most by a Division I
coach in his first three seasons, breaking the previous record of
An opposing coach's view
Their star guard gone, the Zags will be an inside-oriented team
"To beat them you'll have to keep the ball out of the post and
accept that Blake Stepp will score from the perimeter....
Defensively their man-to-man is nothing great, but they've been
playing a lot more zone and doing a nice job.... With Dan Dickau
gone, I think they'll become a much more interior-oriented
team.... Cory Violette is one of the best big guys in the West.
He's strong as an ox, and he has good shooting range.... Zach
Gourde isn't as athletic as Violette, but he's a throwback who
uses his feet and body to get great position inside.... Stepp is
going to surprise people because he advances the ball upcourt
faster than Dickau did. He's a very good shooter with range....
Ronny Turiaf is extremely athletic in the post. Last year his
moves were pretty crude, but I hear he's made big strides."