The Casey Calvary Effect Continues To Propel Gonzaga 20 Years Later

    Gonzaga made the Sweet 16 again…yawn. That’s nothing new for millennials who have grown up with Gonzaga recognized as a national hoops power with a .818 winning percentage since Mark Few took over the Spokane, Washington basketball factory. 

    There was a time, however, when Gonzaga was considered a weak mid-major and the Cinderella of Cinderella schools –a perennial punching bag for Division -1 basketball programs. 

    That was before Few arrived in 1999, leading The Zags to a string of tournament success as impressive as any school in the country. This season was no different as the Zags went 32-4 under Few and won another WCC title.

    When GU outlasted Ohio State 90-84 in the Round of 32 last Saturday in Boise, it secured its fourth Sweet 16 berth in four years. Thats a feat nobody else in the country has accomplished over this four-year span Duke being the next closest with three. The Zags will romp with Florida State on Thursday evening for a trip to another Elite 8.

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    Watch the Game Highlights from Gonzaga Bulldogs vs. Ohio State Buckeyes Watch highlights, game recaps, and much more from the 2018 NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Tournament on the official NCAA March Madness YouTube channel.

    The two-decade upward swing hit a peak last season with the Zags advancing all the way to the universitys first NCAA Championship game before losing to UNC and officially shedding the Cinderella label that had fueled the schools rise to prominence.  

    While Few gets credit for building the Gonzaga empire and pushing the program to new heights each season, it is former player Casey Calvary who actually sparked the dynasty. 

    In 1998, one season before Few took over, Calvary leaped over a couple of Florida defenders and tipped in the basket that gave 10th-seeded Gonzaga a 73-72 upset victory over sixth-seeded Florida in a West Regional semifinal of the NCAA mens basketball tournament.

    Who can forget Gus Johnson’s classic call of “Gonzaga…the slipper still fits !”

    Gonzaga vs. Florida Casey Calvary Tip-In Sweet 16 March 18, 1999

    Gonzaga vs. Florida Casey Calvary Tip-In Sweet 16 March 18, 1999

    The winning bucket, with four seconds left, lifted Gonzaga to its first Elite 8 where they played eventual champion UConn to the wire, trailing by one point with under a minute left before losing 67-62. 

    The loss was tough, but the tournament was a major win for Gonzaga whose dope run to the West Regional final put the program on the map and thrusted the program into national prominence. The next seasons Few came in and provided the Zags with a stability at the top that would turn their program into a powerhouse basketball school that has made the NCAA tourney every season since Calvary’s tip in. 

    The Gonzaga program has grown exponentially in the last 20 seasons and as the March Madness visibility of the school has increased, so has its national popularity and its overall enrollment.  

    Sporting News on Twitter

    Mark Few’s dancing was more impressive than Gonzaga’s win! https://t.co/Hmc4OhkzMS

    Freshman enrollment at Gonzaga in the mid-nineties hovered around 500 students annually, including a total of 569 as late as 1998. In 1999, enrollment jumped to 701, five months after the Zags went to the Elite Eight.

    This upward swing continued after Gonzaga won five games in the 1999 and 2000 NCAA Tournaments, as freshman enrollment increased to 796 in 2000 and to a then-record 979 in 2003. 

    Overall, a 65 percent increasein the size of the freshman class between 1997 and 2003 is part of a phenomenon called the Flutie effect, in reference to former Boston College star Doug Flutie whose historical Hail Mary against the powerhouse Miami Hurricanes back in 1984 increased the popularity of the school, enrollment, and applications for admission. 

    Flutie’s Miracle in Miami

    November 23, 1984: Doug Flutie’s “Hail Mary” finds Gerard Phelan to give BC a huge 47-45 win over Miami.

    Calvarys tip-in had the same lasting effect as Flutie’s Hail Mary. The unexpected sporting victory created a new culture at the university and permanently captured the hearts of hoops fans for generations to come. 

    Gonzaga University president Rev. Robert Spitzer said that the team’s success was solely responsible for the school receiving the $23 million required to build the McCarthey Athletic Center and upgraded facilities for other Gonzaga athletic programs.  

    Twenty years later and Gonzaga has made five Sweet 16’s, three Elite Eight appearances and a National Championship cameo. The Zags are always considered major threats come tournament time and they find themselves in a familiar position this year as they are the favorites, along with Texas A&M, to prevail out of the West Region that also includes Michigan and Florida State. 

    NCAA March Madness on Twitter

    Sweet16 Power Rankings 1. Villanova 2. Duke 3. Texas A&M 4. Kansas 5. Clemson 6. Kentucky 7. Gonzaga 8. Texas Tech 9. West Virginia 10. Florida State 11. Purdue 12. Michigan 13. Syracuse 14. Nevada 15. Loyola-Chicago 16. K-State WHY https://t.co/LucFunC3nc

    There was a time when Gonzaga was considered the weakest school of the four West Region Sweet 16 participants. That was a long time ago now. Before the Calvary Effect elevated Gonzaga to a national prominence that theyve been eating well off of ever since. 

    JR Gamble joined The Shadow League in 2012. The General Manager of Content & Social Media is in his 25th year of covering sports and culture professionally. He has covered a wide variety of major sports and entertainment topics across different mediums, including radio, newspapers, magazines and national TV. His passion is baseball, the culturing of baseball and preserving and documenting the historically-impactful accomplishments and contributions of African-Americans in baseball.