With Gonzaga making its first trip to the Final Four, we thought it’d be fun to catch up with one of the guys who laid the groundwork for the program. Former Zag star Dan Dickau (@dandickau21 on Twitter) was kind enough to take some time to answer our questions about this year’s team and how the program has evolved since he left.
Chris Schutte: First off, I want to thank you for taking the time to answer our questions. I want to start by getting your reaction to seeing the team finally break through and make it to the Final Four.
Dan Dickau: It was awesome. I mean, it’s been a long time coming. There’s been a few teams that I thought have had a good shot at it, but to make any Final Four regardless, you have to have some things fall your way. You have to be playing extremely well this time of year, you have to have a bracket that is friendly to you, and you also have to come across some luck.
I was actually flying back to Spokane from Sioux Falls, so I didn’t even get to watch the second half. I took off right at halftime when they were up 10, and I didn’t know how the second half played out and that we were advancing until the plane landed.
CS: A lot of people have been making the debate that this could be the best Gonzaga team ever. How do you think this team stacks up against the best teams in program history?
DD: It’s always so hard to compare. The thing is, this team has accomplished things that no other Gonzaga team has done. Whether it was the first Elite Eight team, or my two years with the Sweet Sixteen followed by an unfortunate first-round loss when we thought we had a chance to really go far. Adam’s team had a chance to make a deep run, and so did that 2013 team.
Those were all really good teams, and there was a Heytvelt/Pargo year that was very good. But none of those teams were able to accomplish what this team did, and that’s get to a Final Four. And they’re literally eight or nine minutes from being undefeated at this point in the year as well.
CS: You mentioned your time there, and you came in as a transfer from Washington during Mark Few’s first years\. What was it like playing for Few early on in his tenure?
DD: He just has a feel for coaching. He’s got a feel for when to push guys and when to back off, both individually and as a team. I don’t think I’ve ever been around a coach at any level that understands the complexities of the grind of a season and how to keep the big picture stuff together. He’s really good at that.
I think that if you look at his coaching X’s & O’s, he’s really evolved over the years. Offensively they’re doing a lot of different things than when he first started as head coach and when I played for him. They’re running a lot of unique stuff that a lot of times you’d see in Europe, and that’s the influence of him being with USA Basketball and Tommy Lloyd who does a majority of their European recruiting. It’s been really cool to see his transformation as a coach.
CS: How important has it been for him to be able to bring in high-level talent from both transfers and recruiting to maintain the success of the program?
DD: It’s been huge. For example in my case, I grew up before Gonzaga was Gonzaga. I felt like to reach my goals and dreams to maximize my opportunities, I needed to be at a Pac-10/Pac-12 school, and that’s one reason I went to Washington.
A couple of my AAU teammates as well as a high school teammate were at Gonzaga, like Richie Frahm, Casey Calvary, and Zach Gourde. And in that Elite Eight run, I saw that these guys have all continued to improve and evolve as players, and they’re part of a team that is winning. They were doing it in a way that made me sit back and think, “Hey, I want to be a part of that.”
For me, to be able to make that transfer was perfect. I think that since then, what Gonzaga has been able to do with transfers and redshirts is sell that you’re going to be sitting out for a year -- and some people look at that as a year off -- but that’s not the case. We look at it as a year of complete development skill-wise, IQ wise, mentally, they look at it in the big picture. When you get a chance to do that where you can’t take a day off in the weight room, or you have to play the next day, you really make huge leaps and bounds in the development of your game, and you’ve seen that over the years with some guys.
CS: Being able to recruit and develop at such a high level has definitely been one of the major reasons that they’ve made 19 straight tournaments. Did you ever foresee this kind of sustained success when you were there, or that it would get to this high of a level?
DD: I don’t think so, I think that would be hard to give an honest answer saying “Yeah, this could be the start of a 20-year run of NCAA Tournaments.” I think when my group was there, they had just come off the Elite Eight and Sweet Sixteen, and I was kind of in the mind frame that I don’t want to be the group that let’s this die, and I think the groups after that took the same approach.
Then it became one of those things where this program had sustained excellence for a long time, so some of the guys probably thought “you know, let’s see if we can’t take it to the next level. Why can’t we be the No. 1 team in the country? Why can’t we have legitimate title aspirations?”
And they’re proving it again this year. Nigel is going to be an All-American, they’re obviously a 1 seed, and they’re in the Final Four. It goes back to recruiting high-level guys.
Coach Few and Tommy and those guys are pretty selective about the guys they go after. They don’t waste time going after somebody just because they’re supposed to. They go after guys they feel love the game of basketball, already have a high skill level but are going to develop it, and guys that fit and will embrace the culture of Gonzaga. They’re only going to go in on guys that they feel are going to go to Gonzaga, and they do a really good job of not wasting time on guys that aren’t going there.
CS: Being based in Spokane, what has it been like being able to watch this magical season up close from a local standpoint?
DD: It’s been great, and I have a little different perspective than former players because I do the TV broadcasts here. I get a chance to look at it up close both as a proud former player and as a member of the media. It’s unbelievably awesome to be around.
CS: One more question before you go. What’s your prediction for this weekend? Are they cutting down the nets?
DD: Yes they are! I don’t have plans to come back to Spokane until Tuesday when they’re National Champs. I’m going to be getting down there on Friday and I’m pretty excited about it.