Angel Nunez is a vision of athletic grace and power on the basketball floor, a springy forward who delights Gonzaga fans with his gravity-defying dunks.
One can only imagine the thoughts that ran through Nunez's head when he got his first look at teammate David Stockton. Nunez looks like a basketball player; Stockton looks like a ball boy. Nunez is 6-foot-8 and 200 pounds; Stockton is listed at 5-11 and 165 pounds, and many suspect he was standing on a box when his height was measured.
At first, Nunez admits, he couldn't help wondering if Stockton was playing at Gonzaga "because of his dad." You may have heard of John Stockton. Gonzaga legend. Two-time Olympic gold medalist. All-time NBA great. Basketball Hall of Famer. So on and so forth.
But Nunez's suspicions were quickly erased once he saw the younger Stockton in action.
"I love playing with him," Nunez says. "He can really play."
Indeed, Stockton has progressed from a non-scholarship "walk-on" player as a freshman to starting point guard as a fifth-year senior. Proud parents John and Nada (a former Gonzaga volleyball player) have watched their son climb his way into the top 10 in Gonzaga history in assists and steals.
"He has a heart, and he's relentless," Gonzaga forward-center Sam Dower Jr. says. "Not a lot of guys have the will that he has. He can go up with the best of them."
Stockton had his doubts about that when he graduated from Gonzaga Prep and decided to pursue his longtime dream of playing for the Bulldogs.
"I came here with the mindset that I probably won't play (extensively), but I'm going to try," Stockton says. "I'm not going to be a walk-on that doesn't want to try to play.
"The next thing I know, I got on the court. Once I started playing a lot, I said, 'Hey, I want to contribute. I want be 'a guy' on this team.' As I kept crawling up the ladder per se, I wanted the next thing."
Tommy Lloyd, a longtime Gonzaga assistant coach, shared Stockton's guarded optimism initially.
"I don't know if I saw him starting, but ... we saw a kid that was courageous, had very good instincts," Lloyd says. "You're banking on the fact that he was really small at the time and he's probably going to be a late bloomer, which he has been."
Gonzaga head coach Mark Few calls Stockton "a fighter," and rivals frequently compliment Stockton on his scrappy, unselfish play. San Diego guard Chris Sarbaugh, who played with Stockton at G-Prep and GU (redshirting two years ago), said he's not surprised that Stockton has succeeded at Gonzaga.
"He's so smart," Sarbaugh says. "He's just crafty. His size is only going to hold him back so long."
Stockton's outgoing personality makes him a popular figure in the Gonzaga locker room. He says his famously intense father has never pushed him too hard, and coaches say John has never interfered with them during David's collegiate career.
"I feel good — I feel great — about where I'm at right now," Stockton says.
Stockton, who hopes to play pro ball at some level, is attending graduate school after earning his marketing degree last spring. He takes care of much of the cooking and cleaning at the off-campus house he shares with four roommates, including Dower.
"I have him around mostly as the enforcer," Stockton jokes. "If we hear anything late at night, I know he's going to handle it." ♦
Gonzaga plays its final home games Thursday, Feb. 13 against Pepperdine (6 pm, KHQ) and Saturday, Feb. 15 against Loyola Marymount (5 pm, KHQ).