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.?

Go Zags.


7 Responses to “The Legend of Theo Davis Bol Kong Gary Bell, Jr.”

  1. You pretty much summed up all my thoughts on recruits and the pressure they have before they even put on the uniform. I feel bad for them in a way.

    Gray was WA player of the year in high school. Not to say his career at GU was disappointing, but if you looked back at all the hype when he was coming in you’d think it was.

    With all that said I’m still excited to see GBJ play (partially because he’s an in state recruit). I’m just not going to cuss him out if he doesn’t live up to the hype.

  2. The thing about Steve is nobody hated on him until this season. They didn’t have a reason to because he was a complimentary player, as I said, and if the offensive cupboard weren’t so bare, nobody would think to hate on him now. He got pigeonholed, and it screwed over his legacy, I think. I’d hate for that to happen to GBJ, as well. (I do applaud your perspective, though.)

  3. So this piece forms a sort of dialectical counterpoint to the ones about living in the past and Dan Dickau not walking through that door, etc. With all due reverence, it’s one of the less groundbreaking points you’ve put forward this season, though: I say that mainly because my guess is that it isn’t unique to JZF but rather to many sports fans everywhere. Rosterbating about the future gratifies our desire to escape the present and idealize the future, and all it requires is the ability to draw straight lines of projection (ignoring regression, attrition, etc). It’s just natural to the structures or tendencies of desire and fantasy, right?

    All that is primarily to agree with you, of course, not to quibble with the awesomeness of the column. But I suspect this is something we just have to live with, but also be mean to and quash at any given opportunity.

    On a different note, I’m surprised you didn’t mention Austin Daye. Isn’t he a perfect example of someone who got character-raped by JZF on account of not fulfilling sky-high expectations? Speaking for myself, I remember thinking of him in some sort of algorithm that went “Austin Daye is similar to but less than Kevin Durant. Kevin Durant fries my brain with his awesomeness, so if we just downgrade that a little, Austin Daye ought to be a pretty awesome first-team all-American some time soon.” But, although he was very very good, he never really lit it up. I was sad and lived with it; others hate him for it and go to sleep clutching David Pendergraph dolls. So it goes.

  4. The point I tried to make is that Joe Zag Fan gets more obsessed than typical obsessed-over-recruits college sports fans. Maybe it’s because of how close Zag fans think they are to national title contention, I don’t know. But in any case, it’s clear that Joe has pinned hopes for that contention on GBJ.

    As for Daye, I think most Joes hated him because they thought he was a whiny punk on the court. Throwing his hands up in disgust, getting a sour look on his face at every foul, etc. Very much “un-Zag like.” (Even though Mark Few’s the king of sour looks at ever foul.) And I think the fact that he’s playing significant minutes in the NBA now makes them forget that he didn’t live up to their expectations at GU. (By the way, if he were a senior on this team, this team would be incredible and about three current players would be having lights-out seasons.)

  5. I like Bell’s potential more than I did for Davis and Kong for one reason really: He plays in Washington, a pretty good basketball state talent-wise, while Kong and Davis gained their hype in Canada which I’m very skeptical about in terms of talent depth and competition. While it has been nice to have this connection to Canada and getting these recruits, we have always seen these highly rated Canadian players (PMAC, Kong, Davis, Olynyk, Arop) come in with high expectations and they have struggled at the college level. However, if you watch tape or highlights, you start to realize that the other players aren’t very good, aren’t very well-coached and that a player with one big skill (such as shooting) or with athleticism and size will dominate abnormally. However, I wonder how PMAC, Davis, Arop and even incoming Freshman Kevin Pangos would do if he were playing much better talent on a consistent basis.

    In my opinion, I think the disappointment concerning Davis and Kong stems more from us Gonzaga fans overvaluing a lot of these Canadian recruits without thinking about the jumps they are going to make at the American collegiate level (which in my opinion, is a really big jump, more than any other country, because other countries, European ones in particular, have very competitive youth leagues without any practice limits).

  6. @hoft and @scott

    Daye in my opinion was under-utilized at Gonzaga, a victim of the team not having much of an identity on offense. The biggest misconception about Daye is that he is a power forward. He’s not. He’s a small forward. He played the position is whole life and the reason people thought he was a power forward was because of his height. The same thing is going on in Detroit. Kuester wanted to play him at power forward, but he doesn’t have the body or instincts to play the position. Once they moved him to the wing though, he has thrived and has played his much more natural game around the perimter than down in the post.

    Yes, Daye came with a lot of hype, but there were a lot of games he came out and showed that if he played his natural position, he could have dominated more. I also agree with Scott that Daye would be unreal on this team. People forget about the matchup problems he presented for teams and how good he was at blocking shots (not a good overall defender, but great at blocking shots). It’s a shame people hated on him all the time, all because of stupid reasons really.

  7. Kevin, it’s time people stop hyping recruits to such high levels no matter where they’re from, isn’t it?

    (And I remember one conference game–against whom, I can’t remember–where Daye took the ball at the top of the arc, crossed over his defender, drove the lane, then gave a wrap-around pass to an open teammate. On my old blog I called him El Fenomeno for just those kinds of plays.)

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