My journey to becoming a Gonzaga basketball super fan was not a natural one, in fact it began out of reluctance. 

I didn’t want to be one. I couldn’t  have cared less about basketball back in middle and high school. However, I had no choice but to care. I grew up around Spokane and in a family who cared deeply about GU basketball, especially my grandma, or Nannie as we called her.

When the Zags had a Saturday game and our whole family was at the cabin it didn’t matter if we wanted to watch anything else, if Nannie was there, which she always was, the Zags were on and that’s what we were watching.   

And so, my journey began, I started learning the names of now GU legends like Kevin Pangos, Gary Bell Jr. and most importantly Mike Hart. I began to develop a strong hatred toward Saint Mary’s and BYU, one similar to my hatred for the University of Washington, since I grew up in a Washington State house. I began to get the game. 

As I began to get the game, I began to love the Zags. With every passing season I started to invest more and more time into this team. 

My first vivid GU basketball memory was in 2013 when the Zags were a No. 1 seed and they fell to Wichita State. I was at my middle school and the game was on TV, we were all glued to it and then, they lost. 

After this I began to realize how invested Eastern Washington is in this team and how important they were and still are to this community. 

Cut to 2016: The Zags are having what was considered, up until probably this season, as the best season yet. Their roster was stacked with long-time legends and incredible newcomers. 

In November my family and I took a trip to Orlando to go to Disney World by happenstance we were there at the same time as the Zags since they were playing in the Thanksgiving tournament going on there. So, naturally, my parents decided to make one of my Nannie’s lifelong dreams come true and surprise her by taking her to a Zags game.

That’s when everything truly changed for me. She was so shocked she broke out in tears while we were driving there and then her passion during the game was infectious. We were watching the Zags take on the University of Florida and it was a thrilling game and that made me realize how amazing it is to be a Zags fan.

From then on, I was a religious watcher of GU basketball. I thought I knew everything (I didn’t but I was confident I did), I was in love with Nigel Williams-Goss and thought Mark Few was the most brilliant coach on the planet. The team was on an absolute roll that season and history was being made.

For context, during this season I was a senior in high school, and I had applied to GU on a whim. I had no intention of going, I applied to see if I’d get in…and then I got in. 

I’d be lying if I said the Zags making their first Final Four did not have an influence on my decision to come here. It was watching the passion of the students in the student section, the community around me and my Nannie that made me realize that I wanted to be a Zag, I felt connected to the school and community through my love for basketball.

Then I came to GU in the fall of 2017. I was still riding the high of the previous season and was ready and committed to go to every home game I could because I understood that being in the Kennel is one of the best parts of being at GU.

My freshman year, the basketball season is what brought my friends and I together. We waited hours in line, lost our voices at games and not to flex, but got Tent 1 for the BYU game — which was the first time we’d beat BYU at home in a couple of years. It was wild. 

I also got to watch one of the best shots of all time be taken to beat my least favorite team (UW) and I’ve never seen the Kennel erupt like that ever; that’s a moment I will never, ever forget. 

I went to games over winter break with my friends who lived in Spokane and my hometown, watched every away game on my dinky laptop with my roommate and yelled at my dad, mom and Nannie on the phone or frantically texted them where I was at in the Kennel so they could try to spot me on TV.

This team made me a basketball fan, but more importantly it brought me closer to those I love and gave us all something incredibly positive to rally around. 

My Nannie and I would text back and forth during games about her love for Rui Hachimura and my love for Corey Kispert, the state of Drew Timme’s facial hair, how none of the current players could ever take the place of Mike Hart in her heart and most importantly theorized about when they would win the national championship.

Then this season came around, my senior year — the Zags’ undefeated season. We felt like this would be the year and I just hoped that my Nannie would live to see the Zags win it all. She died in January this year, before she could see them try to do it, but I know she’s looking down proud of them for the season they had and that’s also how I feel. 

When March came around, I found myself thinking about what she’d think about all of this and it made the season so much sweeter for me. This thing that brought me, my Nannie and my whole family closer together was seeing the historic season it deserved and I could not be happier.

This season may not have ended the way we all hoped but looking back on all the memories I’ve made and relationships I’ve built through GU basketball makes me eternally grateful and proud to be a Zag.

That reluctant Zag fan from eight years ago is gone and now I am a thankful, unapologetic, passionate and lifelong Zag super fan.

Cheers to many more years of Zags basketball and a community that can’t be found anywhere else. 

Go Zags, always!

Riley Utley is a copy editor. Follow her on Twitter: @rileyutley.


Major: Journalism I came to work at The Bulletin to gain valuable skills in reporting and editing to enhance my work as a journalist.

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