When the Gonzaga men's 2015-16 basketball season came to a premature end, our pride in the team and its fine coach, Mark Few, sustained us — and will continue to in the months ahead. The coach and players are a refreshing example of good sportsmanship. They are role models for young and old alike.
Unlike the interviews by Carolina Panthers star quarterback Cam Newton following Denver's Super Bowl victory, the Zags' postgame comments showed them to be athletes of integrity and high character. Postgame remarks by GU team members and their coach speak highly of the kind of program Gonzaga has run for decades, with 18 straight NCAA Tournament appearances.
The GU basketball program also produces gentlemen and good sports. Recognizing the courage of his players, Coach Few said, "It's perhaps the best team I've ever coached."
Guard and outstanding defender Kyle Dranginis: "I'm just grateful... I just enjoyed the journey... I'm just proud of these guys."
Guard Josh Perkins, whose final shot was blocked: "I love these dudes, and they're my brothers for life."
No one criticized Syracuse or whined about losing, in spite of the pain the loss caused the Gonzaga team and its fans.
In politics, candidates on the losing side of vote-counting routinely telephone the victor to offer congratulations. Even Donald Trump was gracious after his New Hampshire victory, complimenting rivals who disparaged him in the days before the election, but later called to congratulate him. Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson, who threw the unfortunate interception in the final seconds of the New England Patriots' Super Bowl victory last year, was gracious in defeat. College basketball players who fiercely battle on the court routinely meet at courtside to shake hands when the contest is over.
Unlike Newton, Gonzaga's team members were good sports, never pouting over their loss. The Zags recognized that they rose or fell as a team — and they rose to great heights, as they had to dig deep into every reserve of strength to win the WCC Tournament and get into the NCAA Tournament at all. Throughout their season, it was all for one and one for all.
Gonzaga's players were acutely disappointed. But take nothing away from the drive of the Syracuse team. Two days later, they upset top-seeded Virginia to advance to the Final Four. But we heard only a classy postgame speech from Virginia's coach Tony Bennett, formerly head coach at Washington State University.
Tennis great Arthur Ashe once instructed: "Always have the situation under control, even if losing. Never betray an inward sense of defeat." Gonzaga's teammates never betrayed an inward sense of defeat, never proved themselves small by not having their situation under control.
Former Oklahoma congressman J.C. Watts, himself a star college quarterback, once said: "Good character is how you act when no one's watching." Tennis star Chris Evert offered similar advice: "If you can react the same way to winning and losing, that's a big accomplishment. That quality is important because it stays with you the rest of your life."
We all watched Gonzaga's basketball team and their coach show the kind of good character that parents hope for when their children face the toughest competition. The thrill of victory and the agony of defeat are always present in any contest. How one handles each is a sign of true character. Gonzaga's team members and coach demonstrated theirs. It was an outstanding display.
Neither Gonzaga University's men's basketball team nor Coach Few failed to make us proud — even in defeat. ♦