The Gonzaga University men’s basketball team’s sustained excellence is one of the most remarkable stories in contemporary sports.
The Bulldogs are, well, a Pacific Northwest dynasty. And they are on the verge of their 21st straight — no, that’s not a misprint — NCAA Tournament appearance. What’s more, they’ve won 25 or more games in 11 straight seasons.
And for junior sensation Rui Hachimura and his team, the most meaningful stretch of the season is on the horizon.
The No. 1-seeded and nationally No. 1-ranked Bulldogs (29-2), winners of 20 straight, play a TBD foe in the West Coast Conference Tournament semifinals on Monday in Las Vegas.
This is likely Hachimura’s final time to shine on the collegiate level. After all, he is expected to forego his senior season and enter the NBA Draft. He is considered a top-15 draft pick by most experts, and a top-five selection by other pundits.
Being around this program can be mesmerizing, so Tom Hudson enjoys the joyride season after season. As the Voice of Gonzaga Basketball since 2002, Hudson sees every game. His voice captures the highs (lots of them) and lows of Bulldogs game for hundreds of thousands of listeners.
He’s a man of infectious enthusiasm and authoritative expertise about the Zags. And a recent conversation with Hudson provided a valuable primer on Gonzaga basketball in the 21st century, a window into the world that Hachimura entered as a college freshman in 2016.
“I would be shocked if he came back,” Hudson said of Hachimura.
Hudson, 50, also discussed the Toyama native’s growth into a player on the cusp of global recognition. It all started with limited playing time in the 2016-17 season (28 games, 128 total minutes for the NCAA championship runner-up squad), then increased as a crowd-pleasing sophomore (two starts in 37 games; 11.6 points per game).
Hachimura, now one of the premier stars in college basketball while playing for a coaching legend in Mark Few, who’s been at the helm since 1999, is the biggest story in Japanese basketball. (Did you know that Few entered the current season with a .819 career winning percentage — 535 wins, 118 losses — best among active college coaches?)
And though hard work and natural talent have combined to elevate Hachimura’s game, his improved offensive play has been striking this season.
“From 16 or 17 feet and in, you just are automatically accounting two points as soon as it leaves his hands,” Hudson said, adding that Hachimura possesses “a fantastic mid-range game.”