Mike Roth, the Gonzaga athletic director, sat with basketball coach Dan Monson, assistant coach Mark Few and several other insiders in 1997.
The issue was basketball and its direction. Other teams were playing on ESPN, at all hours, and going to NCAA tournaments.
“We want to do that,” Roth remembers saying. “Why not?”
You could have filled the rest of the night with why-nots.
Gonzaga was a Jesuit university in Spokane, Wash. It was contented and comfortable. It played in the Martin Center, “The Kennel,” an old-time gym shared by joggers, intramural players and scholarship athletes.
It held its own in the West Coast Conference but only won the regular-season title in 1994 and 1996, and the tournament in 1995. Its vision extended to the next game, no further.
Nobody knew Gonzaga would not just enter the 21st century but lead it. Nobody knew Gonzaga would basically put the NCAA Tournament on its schedule, an annual event, or would earn a top seed in 2013 and 2017.
Nobody knew Few would become the head coach and recruit and teach the Zags through 18 years of unrelenting brilliance. Nobody knew big-conference teams would actually come to town and consider it a big deal if they won. Or that worthy players would transfer to, not from, Gonzaga.
All of that is taken for granted. The Zags are in the Final Four for the first time, and that is somehow considered overdue.
The Few and the proud at Gonzaga are a little amused – OK, miffed – that people think this is some cosmic breakthrough. They have already pushed a rock to the very top of the hill, in a college basketball hierarchy that doesn’t give schools like Gonzaga a rock to push.
“We’re playing basketball in April, who would have thought?” Roth said Thursday, as he watched Gonzaga practice in Glendale, Ariz. “We’re a destination now.”
Few has won 82 percent of his games since he followed Monson as the head coach in 1999-2000. Every team has won at least 23 games and has…