Mark Few talks all-time Zags shooters, coaching, more on Brock & Salk
Thursday was a big day for Seattle Sports’ Brock and Salk, who for the first time since their debut when the station launched in 2009 had the chance to interview Gonzaga men’s basketball head coach Mark Few.
Needless to say there was a lot to get to, especially with co-host Mike Salk an admitted longtime fan of Few and his Zags, who have reached 24 straight NCAA Tournaments, including two of the last six championship games. The conversation was entertaining and even a bit revealing, and while it didn’t focus much on the upcoming 2022-23 season for Gonzaga, who are No. 2 in the Associated Press preseason poll, the hope is the next time Few joins the show will be sooner rather than later.
You can listen to the full interview in the podcast player below. After that, we’ll go through some of the highlights.
What’s changed for Few over the years?
Of the Zags’ 24 straight tournament trips, Few has been at the helm of 23 (he was an assistant on Dan Monson’s staff for the first one in 1999). That means he’s lived through a lot of basketball, and sports tend to evolve. So when Salk asked Few what the biggest change in his coaching philosophy has been, Few had a good answer.
“It’s funny, and I’ve been talking about that a lot with with not only recruits and their families but even kind of young coaches, I did nothing my first probably 10 years, 15 years on the mental side of things,” Few said. “You know, we’d just say, ‘Well, toughen up,’ and ‘Let’s go, you’ve got to get your confidence going.’ Now, I’m telling you, we spend at least 25% of the guys’ time on just the mental side of things. I have an incredible strength and conditioning coach (Travis Knight) that’s kind of taken that on and kind of almost became a national leader in that regard. And we’ve even started at Gonzaga now an institute for mental performance within the athletic department that all our teams can use.”
Few went on to explain an example of how Gonzaga incorporates mental skills into its practices.
“We do this thing called PGM, Personal Growth Monday. The guys go in and it can be on any topic for 30 minutes without the coaches in there – just the players and Travis. They might talk about outside pressures, they might talk about complacency, they might talk about confidence, and he just does an unbelievable job with combining video of NBA players or maybe NFL guys or situations that have arisen, and then kind of comparing it to the situation that they might be in at that time. We do a lot of things with the team with team building, and just give them as many possible resources to kind of deal with all this stuff that’s kind of going around in their heads, and it’s just so important. I mean, when you see pro golfers and pro tennis players and NBA guys having issues with it, it seems silly to not address it at the collegiate level.”
All-time Gonzaga: Who takes the shot?
The Zags have had a number of sharpshooters come through their program under Few, including Dan Dickau, Adam Morrison and Blake Stepp, who all played in the NBA, or the leader of the first two teams on the current NCAA Tournament streak, Matt Santangelo.
So if Few had to choose one player over his entire coaching career to take a game-winning 3-pointer, who’s it going to be?
His initial response wasn’t who you might expect.
“You know, oddly enough, we had the right guy taking it against UCLA in the Final Four,” Few said, referring to Jalen Suggs, now a guard for the Orlando Magic who made an incredible game-winner from just inside half court in the semifinal of the 2020 Final Four.
“Statistically (Suggs was) not a great 3-point shooter at that point in his career, but he had an uncanny knack whenever we’d do situations in practice of just making a game-winning shot,” Few continued. “That’s why this question is kind of loaded. There’s guys that, I mean, obviously are the best shooters we’ve ever had here, but then there’s guys that just have that clutch gene.”
Including one who is back for one last season with this year’s Zags squad: their star post who’s not exactly known for his shot from beyond the arc.
“Crazy as it sounds, I’ll tell you Drew Timme’s got the clutch gene,” Few said. “I wouldn’t mind him probably pulling up from there at game point. I think he’d find a way to make it.”
When push came to shove, though, Few made the kind of call you’d expect from somebody with title hopes for his current team, landing on the choice of junior Zags guard Julian Strawther.
Unique preseason opener Friday for Gonzaga
The Zags’ first taste of competition comes at 5:30 p.m. Friday night in The Legends of Basketball Classic, and while it’s an exhibition that won’t count toward their overall record, their meeting with No. 11 Tennessee in Frisco, Texas, will actually be a hot ticket.
Few explained what to expect and how the game came together.
“In college basketball, you can have a couple preseason exhibition games, or you can do these closed-door scrimmages where you get together and you can kind of just do whatever you want,” he said. “… We’ve done all of that in the past, and we came up with this concept to do an exhibition where it actually raises money for a great charity, the McLendon Foundation, and then we decided to put it up on pay per view because so many of our fans don’t get this kind of inside look at what happens in these things. I think it’s an awesome concept, I think it’s great especially in this age of NIL. I think it continues to help your guys build their brand, and then also it’s a great way to generate some money for a really worthy cause.”
Few expects the game, which is available to order through PPV.com, to be competitive and not all that unlike a regular non-conference meeting between two ranked teams.
“Even these closed door scrimmages, I’ve done about 10 of these now and it’s all ‘we talk a good game’ and ‘let’s do situations’ … and as you know with all of us in this realm, as soon as you start keeping score, it gets pretty darn competitive. So based on my experience – and (Tennessee head coach) Rick Barnes and I have done numerous of these all the way back to when he was at Texas… they basically turn into a game. And I think because this one’s up in front of everybody and for everybody to see it, we’re just going to play it like a game with the thought being, though we’re going to try to get everybody in, we will treat it as a game because I think that’s what both our programs are kind of looking for right now.”