Last week, I tossed out for debate a provocative topic, completely subjective and indefinable: Who belongs on Gonzaga’s men’s basketball Mount Rushmore?
Judging by message-board reaction, there are a whole bunch of different lenses through which this is viewed, and thus, a wide range of opinion.
So, to restate, and clarify, my criteria: A chosen one could be a player, coach, administrator or any figure who has made a significant imprint on the program. If it’s a player, his impact is measured by what he did at Gonzaga, not in the NBA -- unless he has had some added role with GU.
Here’s the trickier part: Assessing a player’s individual contribution and weighing it in the context of what the team did during his time at Gonzaga. I give great weight to team accomplishment, especially in the post-season, but this exercise requires trying to judge a player’s part in that, as well as taking stock of what kind of supporting cast he had.
Onward . . .
Mark Few. I’d be surprised if anybody doing this didn’t have him No. 1.
Tommy Lloyd. Beyond Few, the candidates are varied and debatable, but I'm certain Lloyd ought to be in this final four. He’s been at Gonzaga since 2000, or virtually the whole of the 19-year NCAA-tournament streak, he’s the longest-tenured GU assistant in history; he established and nurtured the Zags’ formidable overseas recruiting connection; and he has a significant role in strategic input.
Adam Morrison. Here’s where it really gets interesting. Morrison’s three seasons produced modest NCAA-tournament outcomes -- two crushing second-round losses in 2004-05 and the killer Sweet 16 defeat to UCLA. But Morrison’s ’06 season was so dominating, so incandescent, that for me it trumps the post-season underachievement. Remember, he shared a couple of national co-player-of-the-year awards, and his hell-bent, swashbuckling style -- all of it as a diabetic -- captured the attention of the nation. His NBA career was forgettable, but he did enough in college to warrant the No. 3 overall pick in the '06 draft.
Uh, err . . . Przemek Karnowski. I found this to be the toughest call of all. For my money, there has to be a recognition of Gonzaga’s achievement of its first Final Four in 2017. That initially led me to Nigel Williams-Goss, who, after all, was a first-team All-America and led GU in scoring, free-throw shooting, assists and steals.
But then you start splitting hairs. Did any individual lead Gonzaga to the Final Four? In the Zags’ first three NCAA-tournament games, recall, NWG shot 12 for 42 from the field. Even in the gateway Elite Eight win against Xavier when he scored 23 points, he was only 7 of 19 from the floor (albeit with four of seven on threes).
This was really Williams-Goss’ team; he took 115 more shots than anybody else. But as was noted repeatedly throughout the 37-2 season, it was a balanced team with a wealth of scoring options, nothing like the Morrison-dominated club of 2006. Karnowski averaged 12.2 points, second to Williams-Goss’ 16.8.
Karnowski’s career ended on a sour offensive night against North Carolina in the title game. But think about what he was a part of at Gonzaga: He played on both of its teams to attain a No. 1 ranking, in 2013 and 2017. He became the NCAA’s all-time winningest player at 137, and while a lot of those came in the tepid West Coast Conference, it’s still something nobody else can say. He was a key part of the 2015 Elite Eight team and the ’17 Final Four outfit, and if you go by post-season achievement, those are no worse than two of the most decorated three teams in school history.
-- I was surprised those on message boards didn’t voice a greater support for Dan Monson, Few’s predecessor. It was Monson who essentially hired Few, who engineered the 1999 Elite Eight run, and who acted as shield between volatile head coach Dan Fitzgerald and Few and fellow assistant Billy Grier, allowing them to grow and recruit.
-- Limiting this to a Gonzaga-achievement discussion takes John Stockton out of it in my mind. Stockton’s NBA cred is immense and indisputable, but he played on Gonzaga teams that combined to go 27-25 in WCC play in 1981-84 (even as he won league player-of-the-year honors in ’84). Stockton has been an understated presence around the program since he retired from the NBA, but I don’t see it as enough to lift him here, given we’re not counting NBA profile.
-- A figure whom I neglected to mention last week as a candidate -- should have -- is Frank Burgess, the late former U.S. District Court judge. Burgess was the nation’s leading scorer in 1961 at 32.4 points a game (and was No. 5 in ’60, when the No. 1 man was Oscar Robertson). This was an era just after Gonzaga had become NCAA Division I and the Zags played as an independent, with no post-season play.
-- Casey Calvary could make a convincing case to be among the top four. He was part of seven NCAA victories from 1999-2001 and his tip-in against Florida in ’99 is still front-and-center in the discussion as the most famous shot in Zag history.
-- Those who put Courtney Vandersloot on this Rushmore would have a point if I hadn't specified this to be a discussion of the men’s program only. But since we’re entertaining it here, if you opened it up to both men and women, wouldn’t you have to give serious consideration to Kelly Graves over Vandersloot?