There's No 'I' in Mallon

by Howie Stalwick & r & Sean Mallon gets it. Feels it. Needs it. Wants it. Lives it. At Gonzaga University, Mark Few and his assistant coaches pour the Kool-Aid, and they demand that players drink it until they are saturated with the essence of Bulldog basketball: Team first, individuals second, egos last.

It sounds simple, but it certainly is not. Athletes, by the very nature of what they do, need a good-sized ego to succeed. The meshing of more than a dozen testosterone-spewing young men, all of whom have uncommon physical skills, can be a volatile mix on and off the basketball court.

Players like Mallon make the process a lot easier. Need someone to set a screen? Done. Need someone to pass up a good shot to get the ball to a teammate with a better shot? Done. Need someone to dive on the floor for a loose ball when you're leading by 20 or trailing by 20? Done.

"I've always been lucky enough, even when I was a kid and through high school, the guys I played with -- there were not a lot of egos there," Mallon says. "I felt it was my job to do the same thing, to play like those guys."

Actually, Mallon rarely played like "those guys." The Ferris graduate was one of the top recruits on the West Coast, averaging 24.1 points, 9.4 rebounds, 4.7 assists and 3.2 blocked shots his senior year. He broke the all-time Greater Spokane League scoring record set by ex-Zag star Jeff Brown at Mead, though current teammate Adam Morrison wiped out Mallon's record a year later.

Unlike Morrison, however, Mallon has not developed into a college standout. In two seasons at Gonzaga (he redshirted as a freshman, unlike Morrison, who was not recruited nearly as much), Mallon has averaged 6.6 points, 3.6 rebounds, 0.9 assists and 0.4 blocked shots.

Respectable, yes. Spectacular, no. "There have been some ups and downs, but I think ultimately it means a lot for you to go through that," Mallon says. "Things aren't really handed to you. You have to struggle a little bit, but I think I'm better because of it. It makes you appreciate things a little bit more."

Mallon's playing time and impact on games has varied widely at times. The 6-foot-9 forward broke into the starting lineup last season and scored career highs of 18 and 21 points in the first two games, but he lost his starting job at midseason as junior college transfer J.P. Batista blossomed.

"It was kind of tough at first," Mallon admits, "but I had to look at it in the sense of team, and I would have done the same thing if I was the coach. J.P was absolutely destroying people at that time."

It's that type of selfless attitude that prompts Few to describe Mallon as "a great representative of the program, a great student, a great kid and he's great in the community."

"He's always team-first," Morrison adds. "A lot of times, things haven't gone his way. He's done a good job of keeping his head up."

Now that all-time Gonzaga great Ronny Turiaf has graduated, Mallon is set to start up front with Batista. At Gonzaga, however, competition is fierce enough to make virtually everyone have to battle for playing time every game and every practice.

"I think this will be a good season for him, with a lot of minutes," Morrison says.

"We're really counting on him this year," Few says. "I don't know if he realizes that. I'm a little worried about him; he doesn't seem to be producing quite like we expected."

Part of Mallon's problem may be that, unlike the fiery Morrison, he does not carry his emotions on his sleeve. The baby-faced, shaggy-haired Mallon is a soft-spoken, intelligent (3.3 grade point average) political science major who talks about pursuing a master's degree after graduating next spring and perhaps attending law school after (hopefully) playing pro basketball in Europe or wherever.

"He's kind of a goofy guy," Morrison says with a smile. "Everyone makes fun of the [herky-jerky] way he runs ... but he gets the job done. You can never get mad at him; he's always a good guy."

Of course, Morrison -- the first to admit he can be a shameless gunner -- is prone to saying nice things about an unselfish passer like Mallon.

"Even when I was in high school, I never really thought about what I averaged [in scoring]," Mallon says. "That's never been a huge concern of mine. My attitude this year is, we've got a lot of guys who can score. If I can do a good job setting screens and get those guys open and they score, I'm happy with that. At the same time, I can score, too. I'm happy with that, too."

One thing that would make Mallon even happier, he says, is an extended run in the NCAA Tournament. Mallon says a new emphasis on defense has the eighth-ranked Bulldogs believing Few's oft-stated goal -- bringing a national championship to Gonzaga -- is realistic.

"Our potential is pretty high," Mallon says. "Obviously, the NCAA Tournament the last few years left kind of a sour taste in our mouths. We don't feel like we advanced as far as we should have."

Just sip the Kool-Aid, Mallon tells his teammates, and everything will turn out fine.