Remembering Father Tony -- Known to most as "the basketball priest" or simply "Father Tony," Father Anthony Lehmann passed away last week after a long battle with leukemia.
Lehmann is remembered not only by his family and friends, but also by Gonzaga basketball fans everywhere. He sat on the Gonzaga bench for the past 20 years, following the Zags' transformation into the national powerhouse that they are today.
Lehmann's spot on the bench has been occupied by bunches of flowers since December 29, when he was admitted to an East Coast hospital during the team's games against Monmouth and St. Joseph's. His seat will remain vacant for the rest of the season, in remembrance of his time with the basketball team.
But Lehmann was more than just a friend to the basketball team. It seems that everyone in the Gonzaga community knew Father Lehmann -- and everyone has a story to tell about him. When talking to students and faculty of the Gonzaga community, everyone seemed to hold a special place in their heart for him. One student commented how Father Lehmann invited his parents to breakfast within five minutes of talking to them during a parents' social -- and remembered them again a year later, when he bumped into them on campus.
A faculty member said that every time she went grocery shopping at Rosauer's on 14th, the staff there would ask how Father Lehmann was doing and would spout off stories of the animated conversations that they had with him.
Ask anyone who has attended the Gonzaga-in-Florence program and they will tell you that Lehmann made the program what it is today: a life-changing experience.
At 73, Lehmann had performed more than 1,000 weddings and was willing to perform any event for Gonzaga alumni: funerals, baptisms, wakes and marriages.
Lehmann was originally from Murphysboro, Ill. During his senior year at Little Rock College in Arkansas, Lehmann decided to join the Carthusian monks and began living in a monastery in Switzerland. He was ordained a priest in 1959, but continued living in a monastery in Italy until 1969. After a visit with the head of the Gonzaga-in-Florence program, Lehmann decided to stay in Florence and work with the program. He liked the ways of the Jesuits, and returned to the United States in 1972 to become a Jesuit himself. He continued to work as the Dean of Students for the Florence program until 1982, when he came to Gonzaga to work.
Since then, Lehmann has been a friend to everyone at Gonzaga. He had been to 22 countries, and sported a spoof business card that said, "Have Chalice, Will Travel!"
And Father Lehmann loved Gonzaga. He responded to the "Why Gonzaga?" admissions campaign by saying: "I was sent here, but I want to stay because the more I saw, the more I wanted to see. The grass is not greener in any other place."
Funeral services will be held at the Martin Centre on the GU campus on Monday, March 18, at 9 am. A prayer vigil will be held Sunday, March 17, at 7:30 pm, also at the Martin Centre.
Why Not? -- The Gonzaga men's basketball team is heading into its first-round matchup of the NCAA Tournament seeded higher than any team in school history. How far they go this year is the question everyone is asking. With three consecutive tournament runs to at least the Sweet Sixteen under their belt, clearly this team is capable of repeating the success it has enjoyed since the 1998-99 campaign.
Gonzaga is a veteran team, but no team is immune to the hype and anticipation of first-round play. In the one-and-done format of this tournament, the first round can often prove to be the most difficult. The Zags will play a lower-ranked opponent (11th-seeded Wyoming) in the first round for the first time in their tournament history.
The West bracket of the tournament should prove to be the most tightly contested of the four regions. Cincinnati is the weakest of the four number one seeds in the tournament, but Oklahoma and Arizona are clearly the strongest number two and three seeds. While Gonzaga should have been a three or four seed, the selection committee, in its wisdom, has created a tough road for the Zags.
If Gonzaga is able to battle its way through the first round, matchups can become a huge factor. Quick teams that consistently hit three-pointers may give GU trouble. But the Zags have as much tournament experience as any team in the nation. Big-name schools from "major" conferences can be intimidating to players from smaller universities, who tend to play the name on the jersey rather than the players inside them. By playing challenging non-conference games on the road over the last several years, Gonzaga players have overcome the big-school stigma and should not be affected.
As college basketball teams go, Gonzaga has as talented a starting five as you will find. Losses in the last two years in the NCAA Tournament, to beefy Big Ten rebounding powers Purdue and Michigan State, drove the Bulldogs to make rebounding one of the team's top priorities. Cory Violette can only be described as a workhorse, and with Zach Gourde and Ronny Turiaf, the front line has pulled down more than its share of rebounds this year. Each of the big men for the Zags has his own distinct style on offense: Gourde features precision footwork and a soft touch; Violette creates a presence in the middle and has a solid jump shot; and Turiaf provides big-time energy and flashes of brilliance, although he is prone to foul trouble.
Compiling a 29-3 pre-tournament record shows the Zags have the ability to close out opponents in close games. Clutch free throw shooting and poise at the guard positions are pivotal to finishing off any opponent. Blake Stepp and Dan Dickau are widely considered to be one of the top guard tandems in the nation, and with Anthony Reason, who is arguably the top defensive player in the West Coast Conference, Gonzaga has balance in its backcourt. The bench is not especially deep, but if the team can stay healthy and out of foul trouble, it should prove more than adequate. Alex Hernandez comes off the bench and often ignites a run. Kyle Bankhead, a solid three-point threat, is a nice player coming off the bench. Unfortunately, after Turiaf, Hernandez and Bankhead, the bench is effectively done.
The difference in a possible tournament run this year will undoubtedly come down to the intangibles. Dan Dickau must have solid "Dan Dickau"-type games and may very well be required to go into superhuman mode to help GU advance. But defense and rebounding must be what this Gonzaga team relies on for its tournament hopes. Opposing teams can get so worked up during March Madness that players tend to force shots or come flying in wildly for offensive rebounds. Gonzaga will need to keep opponents to one shot on the offensive end and stick to their fundamental style of play.
The success of Gonzaga's run may very well hinge on the play of Stepp. The sophomore guard, who plays like a senior, is perhaps the intangible factor that can tip the scale in Gonzaga's favor. During the season, Stepp has had some huge games, such as the West Coast Conference final against Pepperdine. The bottom line is that teams know who Dickau is; they will also be familiar with the rebounding numbers Gonzaga has put up this year. But if Stepp can drop 25-foot bombs and drive the lane and dish it off the way he is capable of, this Gonzaga team will be very hard to beat.
Bullish About the Zags -- As any good dog would, "Q" starts off our Sunday morning interview by lodging his head firmly between my thighs, leaving telltale lines of slobber on both of my knees. Trying to get him to back off feels a little like pushing a large couch through shag carpet -- but after nosing through my purse and apparently not finding anything edible, he settles on the floor, conveniently within back-scratching distance.
Q is the mascot of the Gonzaga athletics department. Actually, according to his manager and caretaker Mike Hogan, assistant athletic director for development, Q sometimes thinks he runs the entire program.
"When he comes with me to work, he keeps an eye on things, but mostly he sleeps out in the middle of the hallway. He's kind of like a speed bump out there," says Hogan. "He lives at home with me, but he goes on sleepovers with the students. And he goes to all the Gonzaga home athletic games -- not just the basketball games."
At about 60 pounds and a little more than a foot tall, this purebred English bulldog has been part of the Gonzaga team since immediately after Gonzaga's success in the 1999 NCAA basketball tournament (when the Zags reached the Elite Eight).
Q was a gift from the Peak radio station, and, no, he is not named after the famous James Bond gadget-maker. His real name is "Spike Q Gonzaga," and he is named after Quentin Hall, a senior point guard on the '99 team.
"We thought Quentin was the ultimate Bulldog, and he went by the name Q -- that's where the name came from," says Hogan.
According to the athletic department's Web site, Gonzaga has a long history of canine mascots, stretching back at least to the 1920s. In 1921, around the time Bing Crosby attended GU, a tiny bull terrier named "Teddy Gonzaga" was mentioned in a local paper. Later, in the '40s, Gonzaga had another bulldog on staff named "Corrigan" after the daredevil aviator "Wrong Way" Corrigan. Sadly, this one apparently died after eating poisoned meat. Until Q came around three years ago, the last bulldog to fill his position was "General Chesty Puller," who was the mascot during the '70s.
The Bulldog nickname goes back to a time when Gonzaga had a football team and to a 1921, not-very-successful Christmas Day Bowl match against West Virginia played in San Diego. A sportswriter in San Diego coined the name, referring to Gonzaga's bulldog-like tenacity throughout a game the team lost 24-0. The name stuck, and it's been the Bulldogs ever since -- even though Gonzaga's last football season was in 1941.
"Basically, Q is just an ordinary dog," says Hogan. "He knows a few tricks, like shake, sit and lie down -- but that's it. He doesn't know any basketball tricks."
Making Room for the Fans -- When the Bulldogs blaze down the court a few seasons from now, they'll probably be playing in a new, larger Gonzaga University arena.
"We have such a demand for men's basketball tickets right now that those with season tickets and those on the faculty and students are about the only ones who can get a ticket," says GU Spokesman Dale Goodwin. "We don't think that's fair."
That's one reason the school is planning a capital campaign -- the second in the school's history -- to raise more than $72 million, including money for the $25 million arena, says Goodwin. The five-year fund-raising campaign begins April 18 and will raise money for three new buildings, beefing up the financial aid endowment and for renovations to existing structures.
Now Gonzaga students focus much of their athletic energy at the Martin Centre, a sports complex with three buildings, numerous courts and a pool. Its basketball courts have benches made for 3,200 people, but up to 4,000 cram together for popular games, says Goodwin. For the new arena, "We would like to build a building that has about 6,000 seats."
In comparison, the Spokane Arena holds about 12,000 people, depending on the event (more people can attend a concert than can be seated for a game).
The Martin Centre can become crowded sometimes, says Goodwin. During the fall, for example, there are two basketball teams, plus volleyball and baseball players in fall training, all trying to fit practices and games into the complex. Then there are those scarce tickets: Gonzaga's idea for a new arena has bounced around since the late 1990s, when the men's basketball Bulldogs went to the NCAA tournament for the first time, according to Goodwin. That, he says, is when demand began exceeding supply.
"When we get 80 percent of the construction costs, we will break ground," says Goodwin, adding, "It will give us a lot more flexibility. The Martin Centre will be a great practice facility for all of our teams," he notes, with games in the new arena.
Construction could take a couple years. The arena would connect to the Martin Centre, and be built atop what is now a baseball field. That field would likely get moved to an existing practice soccer field that, Goodwin says isn't used much.
The arena has not yet been named. A generous benefactor, Goodwin says, could gets his or her name placed on the Bulldogs' new home court.
Another variable: School officials may ask the city to vacate a portion of Cincinnati, a street that now bisects the campus. The street runs in front of three dormitories one block west of Hamilton. The school, says Goodwin, would like to close it off to through traffic, making the thoroughfare into an access road for arena parking.
Seeds of Doubt -- About what the NCAA did to the Zags: the words "outrageous" and "sham" come to mind. What are we dealing with here? Greed? Do the so-called "power conferences" need the money? Does it boil down to that?
And keep in mind how those power conferences keep those RPI numbers high. They are made of teams that won't go on the road to play the likes of a Gonzaga or a Pepperdine or a Butler, or any of half-dozen other of the smaller schools that on any given day could kick their patoots. So the teams won't visit Gonzaga -- then at the end of the year, Gonzaga is punished for not playing those very teams.
Once your conference is dubbed "powerful," all you have to do is to win a few and lose a few within its confines, and -- presto! -- you are by definition one helluva team, RPI-style that is.
The RPI, which the NCAA likes to hide behind when they make really awful decisions such as the GU seeding, is designed to benefit the big schools -- period.
So we begin with a mess, but these bracket bosses made an even bigger mess this year. The South Regional looks as though they made the decision to assure that Duke would make it to the Final Four. Gotta get those TV ratings. The second-seeded team in that regional is Alabama, a team that lost seven games. The South Regional shouldn't even be viewed as a basketball tournament; it's a coronation.
Now, since the NCAA decided to put dogs in with Duke, they had fewer options, which led to an avalanche of terrible seedings in the other regionals. The West, no doubt, got the worst of things. Can anyone explain why it was they put Oklahoma, fifth on the RPI index, in a region that already is loaded with teams such as Cincinnati, Gonzaga, Arizona, Ohio State and Miami?
Which brings me to another irritation. While the NCAA wizards duck behind the RPI when they need to protect themselves, it turns out they only follow the numbers when it suits them. Oregon, for example, is all the way up to a second seed in the Midwest. In case you haven't checked, Oregon is ranked 34th on the RPI index. Now, we could all make a case that Oregon is a lot better than the 34th best team in America, but that's beside the point. The wizards live by the RPI -- shouldn't they die by it as well? In any case, I point out that at 34th place, Oregon is well behind Gonzaga, well behind Oklahoma, well behind Arizona, well behind Ohio State, well behind Miami. You move any of these teams into the Midwest, and guess what -- Gonzaga gets a higher seed.
Even U.S.C., another school with a much poorer win-loss record -- the Trojans lost nine games -- gets a better seed, a fourth. But, then, as Southern Cal is playing in the Duke Coronation Derby, they probably deserved a fourth, given the level of competition in that regional.
Well, the whole thing stinks. Especially when we consider the Zags' performance in the last three tournaments. And now they get to play a mile-high team in a mile-high place, and, assuming they get by the Cowboy ambush, thanks to the NCAA wizards, they will probably take on Arizona, a team that many think could win it all. That's a game I would like to see -- but as a semi-final or final, where it belongs.