I’ve recently finished a novel written partly around women’s basketball. While submitting the manuscript to publishers, I pay attention to colleges that call themselves a “basketball school.” To me a basketball school has to have strong programs for the men and the women.
Looking at the top 15 men’s and women’s teams as of last week, these schools appear in both rankings: Baylor University, the University of Louisville, University of Kentucky and Gonzaga University (WA). The Baylor women have won a national championship. Kentucky’s and Louisville’s men’s teams are legendary. Then’s there’s Gonzaga, the smallest school. I recently finished Glory Hounds, a book about the basketball program (pictured above). The most famous player to come out of Gonzaga is NBA Hall of Fame guard John Stockton. But he was long gone as his alma mater became more successful on the court.
Gonzaga’s men’s Bulldogs have made the NCAA Tournament each year since 1999. The women have been in post-season play every year since 2007. They have played in the NCAA Tournament eleven times, the NIT twice. Neither the men nor the women have won a national championship. However, both teams have one of the most supportive fan bases in the country. Gonzaga University plays in the 6,000 seat McCarthey Arena. Last season, the men’s teams averaged a sell-out for every home game. The women averaged 5,600 fans per game, twelfth in the nation, according to the NCAA. No other school comes closer to selling out their home court for the men and the women on game days.
With a 6,000 seat arena in a mid-sized (approximately 220,000 residents) city, you might expect Gonzaga to be a smaller school than most that consistently win in D-1 basketball. You’d be right. Gonzaga has only 5,300 undergraduates. The only school close to that size that has been successful in D-1 men’s and women’s basketball is Duke. It’s much easier to recruit players to Duke, an exceptionally selective Power Five school near a major international airport, than it is to bring them to Spokane, Washington. While neighboring California is a fertile ground to find basketball talent, as is Seattle, none of the men or women who play for Gonzaga come from either place.
Gonzaga University might not be cross-shopped too often vs. Duke, but it is an excellent school. Since 2009 it has graduated no less than 73 percent of its freshman classes on time. Freshmen retention has also been excellent, rising from 92 percent in 2009 to 94 percent from 2016 through 2018. The admissions office at the University of Washington would be very happy to welcome similarly successful freshman classes. Just under half of the students come from Washington State; just over a fifth come from California.
Gonzaga’s mix of undergraduate schools (Arts and Sciences, Business, Education, Engineering Nursing) and majors is similar to its conference rival, Santa Clara University (CA). Both schools are Jesuit, though Santa Clara is in Silicon Valley, a far larger job market. Gonzaga is less selective, accepting at least 65 percent of its applicants each year since 2014. The middle 50 percent of the students who arrived in 2018 who took the SAT scored between 1190 and 1330. The range for those who took the ACT was from 26 to 30. The average GPA was a 3.8. Admissions to Gonzaga University are less selective than any flagship state university in California or the University of Washington, yet Gonzaga does better at graduating a class.
While about a fifth of the Gonzaga alumni registered in LinkedIn.com stayed around Spokane, the university has nearly 8,200 Bulldogs in and around Seattle, and over 2,000 in and around Portland and San Francisco. Alumni communities in cities such as New York or Chicago are quite small. That might be the only downside to the school. Go to Duke or Villanova, for example, and you will easily find enough Blue Devils or Wildcats to organize a basketball watch party in any major city on the East or West Coast.
Gonzaga University does what a good school is supposed to do: successfully guide the students it attracts to graduation and a rewarding life after college. A winning basketball program raises spirits, which always helps. This season Gonzaga might be the best basketball school in America, if you judge a program by the percentages who fill the seats and the successes of the men’s and women’s teams.
Need help in finding ‘the good college’? Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or call me at 609-406-0062.
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