The Legend of
Theo Davis Bol Kong Gary Bell, Jr.
“I’m not normally a praying man, but if you’re up there, please save me, Superman!” –Homer Simpson
You remember Theo Davis? He was this big recruit and a big guy and everyone at GUBoards got so obsessed with him but couldn’t say his name because of some rule or something so they cleverly named him Bigs McGee and referred to him as Bigs McGee instead of Theo Davis and they all knew that he was a combo between Ronny Turiaf and Shaq and everyone agreed he was going to be great and nobody could wait for him to finally get on campus and lead the Zags to twenty bazillion national titles? You remember that? And you remember Bol Kong? He was, like, this superhuman who could score from all over the court and had a funny name that everyone at GUBoards cleverly turned into a “BOOM! BOOM! BOOM!” call (Get it? Like when King Kong stomps around because Bol Kong’s last name is Kong?) that got them excited and they all knew that he was a combo between Adam Morrison and God and everyone agreed he was going to be great and nobody could wait for him to finally get on campus and lead the Zags to twenty bazillion more national titles? You remember that? And then you remember when neither player lasted more than a season at Gonzaga? Each got ran off for one reason or another, and neither lived up to even one one-billionth of the crazy unrealistic expectations crazy unrealistic Zag fans heaped upon them? That was awesome.
Hey, look! It’s Gary Bell, Jr.!
Ah, yes. Gary Bell, Jr. 2011 Washington Mr. Basketball. Kentridge High School combo guard averaging nearly 30 points a game. Just dropped 47 in a play-in game for the state tournament. Is also his school’s all-time leading scorer. Can play either guard spot. Focus of a profile article in the Seattle Times. Committed to Gonzaga after his junior season and signed his letter of intent this past fall. Made the day of GU fans everywhere when he did so. Bell’s bona fides certainly seem to indicate he’ll be a special player, and special is definitely what Joe Zag Fan has already decided he will be. These days, all it takes to build a legend is one first-hand report, and once word spread that the Zags were interested in Bell, Seattle-area fans sent in their reports and a legend was born. Bell was no longer just some player Gonzaga was recruiting; he was the player. Reports pegged him as a sort of hoops-playing Frankenstein’s monster, built with the best pieces of all the great Zags of the past. Got his playmaking from Dickau, his toughness from Pargo, his range from Stepp, his athleticism from Knight, his work ethic from Pendo. Give him a few years and he’ll probably show up with Ronny Turiaf’s afro as well, but in the meantime Zag fans far and wide have a veritable running clock counting down until Bell’s first game. They’ve set the clock and now they just have to wait for it to expire before starting another countdown: to twenty bazillion titles. Bell’s probably going to have a long and lasting career, but as far as I know, he has yet to play a college basketball game. Oddly, though, this Gary Bell, Jr. Fact is the one Joe Zag Fan cares about the least and at the moment, it’s the one that’s most important. To repeat, Gary Bell, Jr. has not played in a college basketball game. In other words, he’s still in high school, and yet listen to Joe Zag Fan and his jersey’s already retired up in the rafters. All Joe has to do is close his eyes and see Bell hoisting number trophy twenty bazillion to the sky. He is, to say the least, excited.
It’s one thing to get excited, though, about a high school basketball player (after all, it takes a series of high school players to make a college team) but it’s an entirely different thing to grow obsessed. Excited Fan thinks Bell’s career’s going to be fun and leaves it at, “Boy, am I ever excited to see him in a GU uniform!” Obsessed Fan, on the other hand, follows Bell and Kentridge around as if they were the Grateful Dead, going to the games and then rushing home to write up a report for his buddies on the Internet. Soon, he comes to believe that all of GU’s current problems (sluggish half-court offense, lack of creativity, imagination, or a perimeter scorer, etc.) would be solved by Bell’s mere presence in the lineup. Though he might be half-joking when he says that Lady Zag Courtney Vandersloot is better than any point guard on the men’s team, with Gary Bell, Jr. Obsessed Fan is completely serious.
It makes me wonder: are Zag fans excited to see Bell play next season, or are they simply excited to see him take away the frustrations of this one? No matter how this season plays out, the bulk of it has largely been a lesson in frustration, particularly the guard play. Even including the recent impressive play from Marquise Carter, Gonzaga’s guards have struggled to defend and really struggled to create offense. It’s gotten to the point where David Stockton, a former walk on, is at many times the best option. (In any of the past years, Stockton was the guy carrying Santangelo’s or Dickau’s or Stepp’s or Raivio’s or Pargo’s gym bag. Now? He’s the guy running the offense.) The obsession by itself is probably not that big of a deal. I mean, all college fans everywhere obsess about recruits. It’s a little creepy, but probably not much more than that. But combined with the sense of confusion Zag fans feel about their team’s current point guard situation, that obsession has turned very much unhealthy. Zag fans are so desperate for the type of point guard to whom they’ve grown accustomed that they’ve pinned ridiculous, ridiculous expectations on Gary Bell, Jr. At this point, even if he has the remarkably steady (numbers wise) career of Jeremy Pargo, it won’t be good enough. I wonder if the remarkably gaudy numbers Dan Dickau put up in his career would even be acceptable.
This is what Joe Zag Fan does, though. He builds up a player to ridiculous levels, then bases his entire lasting opinion of that player on whether or not he lives up to those expectations. In November I wrote about Steven Gray and the mantle of leadership Zag fans and coaches called upon him to wear. Never mind that he never showed any of those mythical leadership qualities in three years at Gonzaga; he is supposed to be a leader now because he’s a senior and seniors are supposed to be leaders. Gray had been a complementary player his entire career and he is, for the most part, a complementary player now. And if there were another solid scoring option on the team this season, I’d venture a guess that people would be saying how great a complementary player he is. But nobody can look at his current season in those terms because they’re still looking at him as the failed team leader. That’s not fair for Gray just like the expectations heaped on Theo Davis and Bol Kong weren’t fair for them.
So how is doing the same fair to Gary Bell, Jr.?