Unless you’re a Husky, a Cougar or a Beaver, the idea of two Northwest teams in the Final Four is the greatest thing to happen to Oregon and Washington basketball since Tinker Hatfield created the Nike Blazer that you could paint in team colors.
Let’s be honest, this is a chance to celebrate a couple of programs ‘we’ Northwesterners have known about for years, a chance to laugh at the East Coasters who go to bed before the WCC and Pac 12 tip off and a chance to throw the remote at the TV every time an announcer rhymes ‘Zag’ with ‘log.’
This year’s versions of Oregon and Gonzaga aren’t exactly brimming with Northwest talent, but if you look through the history books, you can see how kids from Washington and Oregon helped build these two programs.
The greatest Zag of them all – with apologies to the late Bing Crosby who apparently played some intramural hoops – was a local lad from Spokane, John Stockton. The short-shorts wearing son of a tavern owner went to Gonzaga Prep and as you know (or should know) went on to become an NBA Hall of Famer and a member of the famed Dream Team.
Another high-profile Spokane-ite was 2006 National Player of the Year Adam Morrison (Mead HS), the scraggly-haired sharpshooter, whose NBA career was more about his scraggly hair than his sharpshooting. Big man Jeff Brown, the WCC Player of the Year in 1994, was another Mead grad.
The Tacoma area – and particularly my old stomping grounds, Bellarmine Prep – has been a happy hunting ground for the Zags. The McPhee brothers, Bryce and Jim, both had wonderful careers and Jim is Gonzaga’s second all-time leading scorer. Another Bellarmine grad, Casey Calvary helped lead the 1999 team to the Elite Eight while Doug Spradley, now a professional coach in Germany, was from Puyallup High School.
Southwest Washington – and in particular, one semi-rural school district – provided Gonzaga with two kids who helped build the program in the late 1990’s/early 2000’s. Battle Ground’s Richie Frahm and Prairie’s Dan Dickau were superb college players who kicked around NBA rosters and played overseas following graduation. Point guard Derek Raivio, son of star University of Portland hoops cult hero Rick, came to Spokane from Vancouver’s Mountain View High School.
Finally, there’s Oregon. That state has given Gonzaga some special talent, most recently Kentucky transfer Kyle Wiltjer, who starred at Portland’s Jesuit High School. Other Oregon kids include all-time assist leader Matt Santangelo (Central Catholic) and Blake Stepp from South Eugene, who is second on the all-time assist list. Ironically Stockton, the NBA’s career assist king, is actually fourth on the Gonzaga list behind those two and Jeremy Pargo.
Many of Oregon’s big-time stars are from outside the Northwest: Greg Ballard, Ronnie Lee and Stan Love were all non-Northwesterners. But the state of Oregon has been good to the Ducks over the years, providing talent like current star Payton Pritchard from West Linn. Other stars from suburban Portland include Anthony Taylor (Beaverton) and Fred Jones (Barlow).
The city of Portland is represented by one of the all-time Oregon greats Terrell Brandon (Grant), as well as the Duck who has scored the most total points in an NBA/ABA career, Steve ‘Snapper’ Jones, the Franklin graduate who became one of the voices of the NBA for many years.
The ‘two Lukes’ are legendary around Eugene, with Luke Jackson the only Duck in history to rank in the top 10 in nine different categories. Jackson is from Creswell, just down I-5 from Eugene. It’s the same high school that produced Gonzaga head coach Mark Few, whose father is a Presbyterian pastor in the town of 5,000.
The other Luke, Ridnour is from Blaine, Washington up near the Canadian border. He became an NBA punchline for the number of times he was traded, but make no mistake, Ridnour is one of the best players to have ever pulled on a Duck’ uniform.
And speaking of Washington, the Ducks have stolen a few high-profile recruits from the Puget Sound area, including Aaron Brooks (Franklin of Seattle) and big man Blair Rasmussen (Auburn).
Final Four 2018
The current rosters of both teams are hardly flush with kids off the streets of Gresham, Kent or Walla Walla. But these days you have to recruit far and wide – California, Canada, Poland – if you want to take your program to the next level. Both Mark Few and Dana Altman have done that.
But this is a Final Four to savor. Pour yourselves a craft beer or a strong coffee and smile at the thought of basketball programs built on the backs of places like Battle Ground, Washington and Creswell, Oregon.