by Howie Stalwick

Traditionalists lament the fact that college and pro basketball have turned into an ESPN highlight reel, with players throwing fundamentals and team play out the gym window in favor of flashy spin moves and dunks.

And then there's Cory Violette, whose game is more suited to ESPN Classic than ESPN2. Leave it to Gonzaga, the school that gave us John Stockton -- a master of fundamentals, and the last man in captivity with short basketball trunks -- to provide us with a gritty, lunch-box-carrying warrior like Violette.

"I'm really a big fan of Cory," Pepperdine coach Paul Westphal says. "He's an excellent player. He seems to do whatever his team needs to win, whether it's rebounding, making a big defensive play or scoring."

Violette has been doing all those things and more the past four years at Gonzaga, but never more so than during his senior year. The center from Boise has career-high averages of 13.9 points, 1.05 assists, 1.0 steals and .95 blocked shots per game; his shooting percentages of 55.4 from the field and 77.5 from the free-throw line are career bests; and his rebounding average of 7.8 is just shy of his career high of 8.3.

"This has been a pretty good stretch for me," Violette acknowledges. "It's all been just getting back to fundamentals and not worrying about things."

"His mental frame is so much better this year," says Gonzaga Coach Mark Few. "He really used to beat himself up. Last year, if he didn't play particularly well, it kind of started snowballing."

Violette is the first to admit he has been guilty of paralysis by analysis in the past. Violette learned a thing or two about poise and perspective when he joined other top college players and a handful of NBA players (including new Portland Trail Blazer Darius Miles) in scrimmages with and against Michael Jordan last summer. The collegians served as counselors at Jordan's basketball camp in Santa Barbara, Calif.

"I got to go around with Michael Jordan," says Violette, smiling at the memory. "That was unbelievable."

Can the old man still play, Cory?

"He's still got a lot of game. He's still pretty unstoppable."

The same can be said for Violette. A 6-foot-8, 260-pound mound of muscle, Violette leads the West Coast Conference in rebounding and field-goal shooting percentage. He's a lock to make the all-conference team for the third straight year.

"I've got a lot more relaxed approach," Violette says. "I'm definitely not as jittery before games."

Heading into Thursday's game at San Francisco (at 8 pm on ESPN2), Violette ranks third in Gonzaga history with 787 career rebounds, sixth in career blocked shots with 78 and 15th in points with 1,195.

"He's the best rebounder we've had in the 15 years I've been here," Few says. "It's amazing how he comes out of the sea of humanity with the ball so many times and guys are kind of falling around him.

"He really has a knack for rebounding, especially in traffic. That's such a lost skill."

It remains to be seen whether Violette will get an opportunity to demonstrate that skill in the National Basketball Association.

"I don't think about it too much, because you get ahead of yourself," Violette says.

"I think he has a chance," says Westphal, a former NBA coach (with Seattle and Phoenix) and all-star guard. "Talking to NBA scouts, they wonder if he's tall enough to play the power forward spot."

Violette may take encouragement from a guy like Charles Barkley, who at 6-foot-6 (if that) was one of the great rebounders of all time. He worked his magic through perfect timing and creating space with his muscle -- also known as "boxing out," an old-school notion Violette uses to great effect.

"His rebounds per minute are as good as anybody out there, and I know they do look at that," Few says. "He'll rebound with anybody."

The seventh-ranked Bulldogs, 19-2 with 12 straight wins, have certainly proven they can play with anybody. Violette, due to graduate in May with a finance degree, is eager to make his fourth straight trip to the NCAA tournament and see if the Bulldogs can push past the Elite Eight for the first time in school history.

"This is definitely the most talented team since I've been here... but I'm not going to say it's the best team we've ever had until it's all said and done," Violette says. "This team's chemistry is awesome. It's some of the best chemistry we've had since my freshman year."

Violette says the 2002-03 Bulldogs' chemistry "was a little bit off" until late in the season. The Bulldogs missed out on their fourth Sweet 16 appearance in five years when they lost in double overtime to second-ranked Arizona in a game ranked by many sports fans as one of the best in NCAA tournament history.

"We gave Arizona everything we had," Violette says. "That one was one of those games where there was not anything else we could have done.

"You feel bad you lost, but at the same time, you left it out on the floor."

Violette smiles before adding, "I've got the tape [of the Arizona game] at home. I hate watching it, but I can't help myself."

Publication date: 02/12/04

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