While the rest of the Gonzaga basketball family was on Cloud Nine, Dan Dickau was literally in the sky.
When the school clinched its first Final Four berth Saturday, the 2002 Gonzaga All-American guard and Prairie High School grad was on a plane.
Dickau was traveling back to his Spokane home from Sioux Falls, S.D., where he was the color analyst on the national radio broadcast of the NCAA Division II championship game.
When he touched down for a layover in Phoenix, Dickau learned Gonzaga had beaten Xavier in the Elite Eight.
Dickau immediately knew he would be back in the Phoenix area this weekend. For anyone close to Gonzaga basketball, including a handful of Clark County players, this Final Four is a de facto family reunion.
“It means a ton,” Dickau said in a phone interview. “The Gonzaga community is so close-knit, it’s hard to describe.”
Zach Gourde will also be at the Final Four in Glendale, Ariz. A teammate of Dickau at Gonzaga and Prairie, he was partway through the 1,400 mile drive from Spokane when reached by phone Thursday.
“I haven’t been able to set my phone down all week,” Gourde said. “People going all the way back to the early 90s are texting, asking who’s going down. We have a teammate who is flying in from Australia.”
Players from Clark County have played key roles in elevating and sustaining Gonzaga as a national force that has reached the NCAA Tournament 19 consecutive years.
Battle Ground’s Richie Frahm averaged 14.4 points on the 1998-99 team that reached the Elite Eight as a No. 10 seed.
Gourde debuted the following year as a redshirt freshman. Dickau transferred from Washington to Gonzaga after the 1998-99 season and averaged 21.0 points per game in 2001-02.
Dickau said that Gonzaga team played with a chip on its shoulder.
“People were saying that since those guys on that Elite Eight run are gone, Gonzaga will go back to being nobody,” Dickau said. “That didn’t sit well. We felt like we had a lot to prove, especially me transferring from Washington. We felt like we solidified the program.”
Derek Raivio joined Gonzaga in 2003 after setting Mountain View school records for single-season and career points. His career at Gonzaga coincided with Adam Morrison, who was 2006 national co-player of the year.
Yet those Gonzaga teams, despite always reaching the tournament, rarely advanced far. The Bulldogs wouldn’t return to the Elite Eight until 2015.
That’s why this year’s Final Four run is so pleasing. Dickau had grown tired of analysts shrugging off Gonzaga as a team that could dominate the West Coast Conference, but not make a splash in the NCAA tournament.
“Lots of people nationally said we couldn’t do this,” he said. “Well, we did it.”
All Gonzaga players, past and present, are taking pride in this year’s success. They see the Final Four as a culmination two decades in the making.
“When we were there, the seniors were program-building, not just team-building,” Gourde said. “We were standing on their shoulders.”
And now Gonzaga basketball has reached new heights, with the help of a few building blocks from Clark County.
Micah Rice is The Columbian’s Sports Editor. Reach him at 360-735-4548, firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @col_mrice.