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Originally published Monday, March 23, 2009 at 12:00 AM

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Bud Withers: No better place for Few than Gonzaga

At courtside in Portland Saturday night, during the thriller with Western Kentucky, the geometry of all those Gonzaga relationships was...

Times college basketball Reporter


Gonzaga vs. N. Carolina, 6:57 p.m., Ch. 7


At courtside in Portland Saturday night, during the thriller with Western Kentucky, the geometry of all those Gonzaga relationships was played out whimsically at courtside.

Here came the text message to Oregon athletic director Pat Kilkenny, acting as an official from the host school. It was from Bill Grier, the San Diego coach, longtime former Zags assistant and good friend of Kilkenny and the staff next to his courtside seat.

"Tell him to guard No. 20," Grier advised helpfully.

Kilkenny could easily have passed that on to Gonzaga coach Mark Few, since he was about 10 feet away for each GU game in the NCAA subregional.

He was almost close enough to talk contract.

A lot of people in Oregon are speculating — some of it a little overheated, frankly — that it will inevitably happen shortly. That Kilkenny, the Oregon AD, ex-benefactor to Gonzaga and a guy tight with Few, will fire Ernie Kent and make the first call to his old crony.

Right now is a good time to take the temperature of that possibility. The tournament being the tournament — kid hits shot, coach's profile rises — Few is more visible and more desirable.

But it also brings us to a Sweet 16 where Gonzaga meets North Carolina, the team that was everybody's No. 1 in the preseason. This could well be the time when it gets reinforced that after all the noise about the Zags and their continuing story, we learn that North Carolina is still North Carolina and Gonzaga is still Gonzaga.

We don't know yet how the Kent melodrama will play out, so this could all be moot. But Kilkenny hasn't gone out of his way to hose off the conjecture, pretty much just saying he and Kent need to talk.

Meanwhile, Few wasn't summarily shutting down such questions last week. But that's how he usually handles it.

If that meeting doesn't bring Kent back, there's a big chance Few would have the first opportunity to move south.

In which case, he'd be nuts.

There are so many jagged edges to the Few-to-Oregon scenario. They lead to one inescapable conclusion:

He has a better job.

Start with the reality that while Few would be hired by Kilkenny, Few wouldn't be working for him. Ex-football coach Mike Bellotti takes over July 1. In reality, Few might be working more for Nike czar Phil Knight than anybody.

A new facility at Oregon, opening in two years, will be named Matthew Knight Arena, in honor of Knight's son who died at 34 in a 2004 diving accident in El Salvador. You presume that the senior Knight is expecting the highest performance in that building.

Maybe the new digs elevate Oregon's status to the general consistency of, say, Wisconsin. Right now, Oregon is no better than a mid-level job in the Pac-10.

You can say that Gonzaga has crested, has done all it can ever do. Maybe. What we do know is that every year since 1999, it has had the chance, getting to the NCAA tournament. You don't get that at Oregon. Unless you're a premier program — UCLA, Kansas, Texas, Duke, North Carolina, Connecticut — you're not always in the tournament.

Kilkenny might appeal to the fact that Few is an alumnus. But so is Kent. Few, who often beats the drum for fellow coaches, ought to find it a little troubling that a year after Oregon was in the NCAA tournament, it might tell Kent to go away.

Few has bottled something at Gonzaga. It has become a national brand. Both the coaches at Akron and Western Kentucky — before they ever met the Zags over the weekend — had talked more than once to people around them about how to become what Gonzaga has.

There was a time when Few, in taking Gonzaga national, was bigger than the program. He turned down several opportunities. Now the brand is bigger than he is. If he leaves, that doesn't come with him to Oregon.

Kilkenny can give him more money. He can give him a new challenge, if that's what Few decides he needs.

What he can't give him is Gonzaga.

Bud Withers: 206-464-8281 or

Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company

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