Best Athlete - Casey Calvary
Casey Calvary is a name that will not be soon forgotten in Spokane -- or around the country, for that matter. This is not because a Gonzaga Bulldog jersey bearing his number hangs in sports stores everywhere, although that doesn't hurt. It's more from his displays of athleticism on the court over the past four seasons that he starred on the now legendary Zags.
Four years ago, a somewhat smaller version of Calvary's now enormous 235-pound, 6-foot, 8-inch frame came to Gonzaga University from Tacoma, Wash., where he played at Bellarmine Prep -- a Catholic high school. In that time, he has managed to accomplish what every aspiring young basketball player only dreams about.
So who is Calvary, and what is he all about?
"I can tell you right now," says Mario Kasun, a recruit from Croatia who will play for the Zags next year, "he's the man." Kasun adds that along with being really funny, Calvary is inspiring, too. "He always told me to believe in yourself."
Calvary played in every game his first year as a true freshman. The next year, with WCC Player of the Year Bakari Hendrix graduated, it was Calvary's time to shine. The sophomore forward's tip-in in the final seconds against Florida State sent the Bulldogs to the Elite Eight in 1999. Over the next two years, Calvary would do everything in his power to make people realize Gonzaga was no Cinderella story. Calvary finished the 1998-1999 season as an All-WCC pick and an NCAA Tournament All-West Regional team pick.
His junior year as a Bulldog, Calvary continued to build his reputation as the team made it to the Sweet 16 again. He ended the season as the WCC Tournament MVP and was selected to the All-WCC first team.
Calvary's senior year was his most spectacular. He said goodbye to five seniors who graduated in 2000 and became one himself. It was his turn to step up as a leader.
"Casey's like the father for the team," says Kasun. "He always motivates us. He taught me to play hard and be responsible for your decisions in the game."
"He has a good concept of team," adds former GU player Richie Frahm, one of those seniors who graduated in 2000, "even though he gets all of his individual accolades."
Calvary displayed all the traits of an NBA hopeful in his senior year. He consistently showed his strength under the basket, as was so powerfully demonstrated when he shattered the backboard in a game against New Mexico at the Spokane Arena. He showed his versatility, however, with rebounds, surprise three-pointers and even seven assists against Indiana State in the NCAA Tournament. His feats were even greater considering he was often the target of harsh defense tactics.
Calvary joined Shane Battier of Duke and just a handful of others as a candidate for the John Wooden Award, a highly coveted basketball honor. This can be added to this year's resume, which includes WCC Player of the Year, first team All-District, second team All-American and an honorable mention on the Associated Press All-American team.
Although the Zags third straight run deep into the NCAA Tournament ended against an impressive Michigan State team in Atlanta last week, Calvary has left his mark on the basketball program that appears to show no signs of slowing down. But now he must focus on the next challenge, which is getting drafted to play into the NBA.
Do all his accolades guarantee he'll be selected in the first round of the NBA draft? Not hardly. Calvary's gotten incredible exposure with three consecutive trips to the Sweet 16, but there's a lot left to prove. Frahm, who was injured last year in an NBA try-out camp, says the camps play an important role in the selection process. Still, he believes Calvary has an advantage.
"The scouts have seen enough of what they need to," says Frahm. "I think he'll get in because of his size and athletic ability."
Second place: John Stockton
Third place: Jan-Michael Gambill