PRODUCTS: Matt Santangelo (1997-2000), Dan Dickau (2000-02), Blake Stepp (2001-04), Derek Raivio (2005-).
A young point guard arriving at Gonzaga for his freshman year is greeted by more than just the legend of John Stockton. He's greeted by Stockton himself.
Stockton, arguably the best pure point guard in basketball history, still lives in his hometown of Spokane, Wash., where Gonzaga is located. The pub in town partly owned by Stockton's father, Jack and Dan's, is a local landmark. Stockton even converted a warehouse situated in the heart of Gonzaga's campus into a huge workout facility. The Warehouse, as it is known, holds 10 batting cages and three basketball courts, including one with the floor Stockton imported from the old Salt Palace, where the Jazz used to play in Salt Lake City.
Even when he was still playing in the NBA, Stockton spent his offseasons in in Spokane. He routinely tuned up for the coming season by playing against the current Gonzaga players. Now retired, Stockton continues to work out with the guys, and he keeps himself on call for an extra session or a bonus tip if needed. "If you want to just call him up and ask him about playing the pick-and-roll, he's always there for you," says Blake Stepp, who was Gonzaga's starting point guard from 2000-04. "Looking back on it, I probably didn't call him enough."
With that kind of connection to the program's past, it's little wonder why great point guards -- especially scoring point guards -- love to play for Gonzaga. Though just a small Jesuit school competing in the West Coast Conference, Gonzaga has played in seven consecutive NCAA tournaments. The system employed by head coach Mark Few depends on having a point guard who can make the proper decisions on the fast break and pull up for a 3-pointer on a dime. Few's philosophy is to find the right person to step into this rich lineage, then let him do his thing. It has worked quite well of late.
Since joining the WCC in 1979, Gonzaga has had 16 guards named to a total of 29 all-conference teams. Very few programs can boast a recent run of excellence like that delivered by Matt Santangelo, Dan Dickau and Stepp (2001-04), who fell 28 assists shy of breaking Santangelo's career school record but did set another school record by nailing 288 3-pointers during his career. The 2005-06 edition is led by 6-foot-3 junior Derek Raivio, a native of Vancouver, Wash., who made 47 percent of his 3-point attempts last season and had a 2.26 assist-to-turnover ratio.
"A lot of people say that GU stands for Guard U," Stepp says. "If you earn coach Few's respect, you get the freedom to shoot 3s even on a fast break. A lot of places don't give you that."