How Mark Few Sold Gonzaga’s ‘Culture of Player Development’

Nigel Williams-Goss, Jordan Mathews and Johnathan Williams are in the Final Four with Gonzaga after transferring out of Power 5 programs. They’ve been a ‘perfect fit’ for coach Mark Few’s culture.

GLENDALE, Ariz. — Mark Few’s lone McDonald’s All-American recruit in his 18 seasons as Gonzaga’s head coach is the only remaining player in the NCAA Tournament with the potential to be one and done. Plenty in the college and pro game believe he’s NBA ready.

But Zach Collins isn’t boosting his draft stock while playing major minutes. He doesn’t even start. Collins’ status as a high school star didn’t sway Few to coddle him. Few hasn’t done that with any of his players, and he likely never will.

Building Gonzaga from a simple NCAA Tournament darling into a powerhouse that will play in its first-ever Final Four game Saturday night against South Carolina has required creative tactics and a vision that some players refuse to buy. But Few sold it to Collins and sold it to his all-upperclassman starting lineup that includes three star transfers – Nigel Williams-Goss, Jordan Mathews and Johnathan Williams, who all required a different pitch that amounts to the same goal Few had for Collins.

“It’s a culture of player development,” Few said Friday. “That’s what fits at Gonzaga. … The communication line has to be open. The expectations have to all line up with what the player wants and what we feel like where they’re at within the program.”

No one’s going to argue with a 36-1 record and a berth in the Final Four. But none of the aforementioned players knew that was coming when they decided to play for Few. They just knew there was the potential for it, just like there was at any of the other programs pursuing them. The vision Few and his staff laid out made the decision much easier.

For Williams-Goss and Williams, they needed to sit out one season under NCAA transfer rules. Williams-Goss came from Washington and Williams from Missouri looking for the best opportunity to win and improve their games.

That meant during their redshirt seasons, they were going to work and work hard despite not playing in a single game. Not every school made that clear.

Gonzaga Bulldogs head coach Mark Few hugs Gonzaga Bulldogs guard Nigel Williams-Goss. (Credit: Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports)

“I think that was one of the biggest reasons why I chose to transfer to Gonzaga specifically – because of the redshirt plan we went over on my visit,” said Williams-Goss, who is averaging 16.7 points and won West Coast Conference Player of the Year after two solid seasons at Washington. “They had a direct plan of what we were going to work on on the basketball floor. They’re so detail-oriented in everything they do, and I think for a player like myself, that was a perfect fit.”

Williams considered Georgetown, Michigan State and SMU as potential transfer destinations when he decided to leave Missouri, where he averaged 11.9 points and 7.1 rebounds two seasons ago. But Gonzaga ended up being the clear choice for one specific reason.

“They gave me a game plan of what I would be doing in my redshirt year. Of all the schools, they were the only school that did that,” Williams said. “They really got me hooked, and when I got there to campus, they really followed through with their plan and we just talked about every day what can I get better at.”

Mathews left Cal after three seasons and averaged over 13 points in each of his last two there before coming to Gonzaga as a graduate transfer. He didn’t need the redshirt year plans that Williams-Goss and Williams did, but he knew he wanted to be somewhere he could play a role and win some ball games.

Few helped provide that.

“What attracted me to the program was the opportunity to shoot the ball and be part of a winning culture,” Mathews said. “It was attractive to me because I wanted to win. I wanted to get here. That’s what it was.”

Culture. Winning. Few has made it clear that providing the right culture within the program will lead to victories. It’s no more evident than this season’s run to the Final Four and coming within one victory of finishing the regular season undefeated.

“I think it was just a perfect fit for all three of us,” Williams-Goss said of the transfers. “We’re all very motivated, detail-oriented people.”

So is Few. That’s why he praised the three transfers for their work ethic and desire to implement everything they’ve learned after Few lived up to his promises when they arrived at Gonzaga.

“When we find these guys and they find us, I mean, it just works perfectly,” Few said.

And the journey isn’t over yet.

“They’ve had so many great teams, so many great players, to be able that first team to get over that hump and get to the Final Four is huge,” Williams-Goss said. “We etched our names in the history books at Gonzaga. When you have such a great program, there aren’t too many things that haven’t happened. It’s definitely something that we take pride in.”


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