Monday, November 24, 2008

Exclusive Interview with Chris Sprow of ESPN the Magazine

The Kennel Report was lucky enough to get an interview with Chris Sprow of ESPN the Magazine. Sprow is a Spokane native who is a General Editor and Reporter for one of the best sports magazines in the nation. We also interviewed Sarah Turcotte as well and will have her answers up later today. Turcotte is the college hoops editor for ESPN the Magazine. The Kennel Report: Being nestled up here in the Pacific Northwest, we get a one-sided view on Gonzaga. How is Gonzaga viewed on the East coast and across the country? Do you think people see them as a Cinderella, prima donna, etc?

Chris Sprow: I think the little-school-that-could vibe is long gone. Gonzaga is as big as Wake Forest, has beaten teams like UNC and UConn in New York and Boston respectively, and they’ll continue to schedule and win that way, get invited to tourney’s like Maui and others and start seasons ranked. Those games are money games not just for GU, but for the other team. Cinderella doesn’t get those games. More so: It’s one thing to be a small college, but I think the Cinderella varnish is far more associated with a program that truly has what were lesser-recruited kids coming out of high school. A real Cinderella wins through guile, execution or
a ton of three’s. But while GU is recruiting good kids, they also have ones who are eyeing the NBA and see the TV schedule. Even a traditional tough “out” like a Butler doesn’t have their Freshman projected as top five picks. Once you beat a top five team and the talent on both sides looks the same, it doesn’t matter where you’re “tucked away”, you’re legit, and your only problem with perception is self-induced or involves people in New York who like to get to bed before 3 AM. Beyond that, your biggest problem is that your TV view has the student section basically off-screen. How can this happen? Only the Izzone does similarly (and foolishly.) TV recruits for you. Let it work, people.

TKR: What is the ceiling for Gonzaga this year, can a national championship come to Spokane?

CS: Gonzaga has no ceiling offensively, but that was never the problem. If they can defend with serious intensity for 35-38 minutes instead of 20-25, they can beat anybody. The problem with Gonzaga has been not being able to stop teams that are truly on their game offensively (think Nevada in Seattle a couple years ago). I think the team will continue to get better because they have deeper athleticism (which means more minutes where you can slap the floor and play defense with that type of energy, it’s not Few’s fault if he can’t play a trap 10-deep), but it still has to be consistent. So yeah, they can, but I still see them as an Elite Eight/Sweet Sixteen team that needs to capture defensive lightning.

TKR: Gonzaga returns one of the best point guards in the nation in Jeremy Pargo. Is he a top 10 point guard in the nation, where do you think he ranks?

CS: He’s one of the best. Pargo is better against athletic players—it takes his game up a notch. There is not a single team where he couldn’t start at point guard, I think, in the country, and 99% of them would be better for it. (Except maybe St. Mary’s, oddly.) Also, is there a better dunker at his position? No.

TKR: How does the media world view Josh Heytvelt after his arrest a few years ago. Do you think he can return to form for Gonzaga this year?

CS: Fans are harder on Josh than the media. He was a kid. He needed to grow up. He just needs to remember that wouldn’t have been a big headline if he wasn’t a big-time talent. Mark Few knew that. Everybody saw him steal Hansbrough’s lunch money in the Garden. If Gonzaga was so concerned about their status as a power, the fact that a kid being an idiot could be such a huge story nationally should answer all those questions.

TKR: Let's say Gonzaga was in the Pac-10 this year. Do they win it? Why or why not?

CS: I think they could win it, though the Pac-10 has some works in progress. UCLA, ASU
, USC, Stanford, Cal and the Cougs are all transitioning. You can’t lose a bunch of first-rounders every year as a conference and not be down some. Now, GU is better than UCLA right now, but will they be in March? I’m not sure. Howland’s teams start suffocating people by then. GU needs to think the same way.

TKR: What has to happen for Gonzaga to reach its potential and what could hold them back?

CS: I think it’s almost problematic when every starter can make three’s. You make a couple and suddenly every guy feels like throwing up a heat-check. GU needs to kill people on the boards and let the outside stuff open up naturally. How can they not be a good high-low team with three starters at over 6’8” and two great passers in Bouldin and Pargo in the backcourt? So this team needs to build their offense starting at the hoop. If they have frontline depth issues, then they need to be fouling out the other team’s big guys early. Sometimes when you can do a lot of things well, you don’t focus on the one thing you need to do to win that game. Also: defend better, defend harder and defend all game long. I think they continue to get better every year in that area, but it’s March in a nutshell.

TKR: Do you think Austin Daye should enter the draft after this season and is he a sure fire lottery pick?

CS: Sorry, if you’re a top ten lock, you have to go. Top twenty, still close. If you say otherwise, buy a Wall Street Journal. He can get his degree. Vince Carter got his degree. A lot of guys do (really). Someday that dude will buy Gonzaga a new science building, but it’s not because he got a Bio degree in 2011. Think about this: Daye may have gone top 15
last year. If
so, think if that ACL-scare was the real deal. He could stay, but that should involve an insurance policy, and Mark Few knows that. It’s a credit to any program when you do right by a kid. Nothing more.

TKR: Every year Gonzaga fans are forced to deal with rumors of Mark Few being the lead candidate for every job opening. Do you foresee any job or opening that would cause Mark Few to leave Spokane, or will he be in Spokane for his entire coaching career?

CS: Only Oregon, and honestly, the guy seems comfortable. He’s paid well, plus they have a Swoosh on the jersey’s (that matters), good camps, they charter, the games are sold out, he recruits nationally (and into scary places in Africa!!!, if you’ve followed the ludicrous Bol Kong story) and the dude likes to fish. When he turned down IU, I got the feeling he might be a lifer. (As a Spokane-native, I sort of hope I’m right.)

TKR: Many casual basketball fans view the WCC as Gonzaga and a bunch of no name schools. How do you view the WCC, and do you feel it is realistic for the conference to get 3 NCAA Tournament bids again?

CS: Looks like three tourney teams right now, just on paper, which is good for any league of that size. Let’s face it, until Gonzaga goes to a Rose Bowl or San Diego builds the Bill Grier Dome, which seats 23,000, there’s a perception issue (follow the money), but it’s already considered a solid hoops league. If coaches stay, in some ways, it already is. I think as well if teams continue to find international gems, they can win in recruiting in a way they haven’t before.

TKR: With the upcoming Old Spice Classic, Gonzaga will be participating in arguably the top pre-season tournament this season. What is your take on the Old Spice field, and where would you rank Gonzaga against the rest of the field?

CS: They can beat any team in the field, and can lose to 80% of then too. It looks like a Sweet 16 field. I think talent-wise, Gonzaga is right there with MSU and Georgetown. Hard to pick one. Tennessee is also scary because Bruce Pearl could win 15 games with Loyola Marymount’s roster, Maryland is down but always tough, and even the middies in Wichita State are Siena are really tough. If you have a letdown, you could easily lose, just like any roadie in the WCC...

1 comment:

Ulysses S. Grant said...

Nice interview. It's people like you that make the world a better place.