May 29, 2024
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March Marvel-Calvary a catalyst for historic Gonzaga run
3/15/2024

When he attended University High volleyball games to cheer on his two oldest daughters, Casey Calvary was undisputably the biggest U-Hi fan in the building. 
The former Gonzaga basketball standout, who stands 3 inches short of 7 feet and is still close to his playing weight of 225 pounds, tends to stand out. He has also grown accustomed to being recognized in public, whether at prep sporting events in Spokane Valley or in downtown restaurants. 
"I'm surprised that people still remember," Calvary says. 
What they remember is an unprecedented run in the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament 25 years ago this month when a relatively unknown school with a name few could pronounce shocked favored schools like Minnesota, Stanford and Florida on their way to an improbable Elite Eight appearance. Calvary was a sophomore starter on the Cinderella squad that ultimately bowed out of March Madness after a narrow loss to the University of Connecticut, the eventual National Champion. 
"Part of it was talent but it was really the attitude that we were going to win," Calvary recalls. "Just that belief in ourselves." 
Calvary and his teammates composed an obscure but determined 10th-seeded squad that was the lowest seed to reach the Sweet 16 that year. After an opening round win against Minnesota at Key Arena in Seattle, the Zags faced second-seeded Stanford, a team that advanced to the Final Four the previous year and returned all five starters. Calvary scored GU's first eight points on a pair of 3-pointers and an alley-oop slam dunk en route to an 82-74 win. The national coverage the next day referred to "little known" Gonzaga taking down one of the elite programs in the country. 
Calvary would experience two more significant journeys in the tournament his junior and senior years as the Zags advanced to the Sweet 16 both seasons. He was named West Coast Conference Player of the Year in 2001 and went on to play professionally until 2008. His career took him to Japan, France, Australia and Spain as well as the Continental Basketball Association, a precursor to the NBA's G-League. 
The son of an Army pilot, Calvary was the youngest of two sons in a family that migrated from Germany to Alabama to the Bay Area before finally settling in Tacoma, Washington after Calvary's dad was stationed at Fort Lewis. By then, Calvary was in fifth grade. He grew up playing baseball, football and basketball and snow skiing with his family but zoned in on basketball by his sophomore year at Bellarmine Prep after growing to 6'6. He threw down his first in-game dunk on an opening tip that season against Lincoln High School. 
"By the end of my sophomore season, I was a college prospect," Calvary recalls. 
Every school in the WCC came calling other than San Francisco. By his senior year, Calvary had narrowed his choices to Colorado State and Gonzaga. He would end his GU career with 1,509 points. 757 rebounds and 207 blocked shots. 
With the spotlight on the 25th anniversary of Gonzaga's foundational squad this year, Calvary and his teammates have had a chance to catch up and reminisce about installing the groundwork for what would become a college basketball powerhouse. 
"The bond that we share is fantastic and it's still in place," Calvary said. 
Since his basketball career ended, Calvary has become an entrepreneur and worked in orthopedic sales. Since late 2020, he has owned and operated COR Institute, an integrated approach to health and longevity that focuses on physical, emotional, nutritional and cognitive wellness. 
Looking back on a magical March a quarter century ago, Calvary said Gonzaga's bracket-befuddling stretch proves that success awaits those who sidestep the naysayers and remain focused on rising to their potential.  
"For people who were watching the transformation happen it was a pretty big deal," Calvary said. "It sort of gives you that feeling that if you can raise yourself above expectations and where everyone wants to put you, then it's probably going to happen – all you have to do is work and believe, those two things." 
Q:  We've heard the cliches over the years like Cinderella, mid-major, underdog, etc. – that have attempted to define Gonzaga as a program that is not necessarily a college basketball behemoth when compared to the blue bloods of the sport. How much incentive was that to you as a player and the teams you played on from 1997 to 2001? 
A:  That's not a good feeling when other people are putting in the time and working hard and they're getting all the accolades and rewards and you're not seeing anything  that they're doing that's any better or different. There's only place to prove that and that's on the court. For us, that chip on the shoulder, that motivation, was absolutely there against the players, against the schools. It's great fuel when you're playing against players who may have been recruited in front of you or schools that were rated higher. I loved all that underdog stuff. 
Q: When you arrived on campus as a freshman in the fall of 1997, what were your impressions of the tradition and status of Gonzaga basketball at that time?  
A:  Once I put the Gonzaga jersey on, it was an interesting feeling. It was almost like your own last name. You're proud of your name. Now everything I do is going to represent this "Gonzaga" across my chest, so what's that going to mean to people when they see it? That legacy and Gonzaga becoming what it is now is everything. Back when I got to Gonzaga, you couldn't even buy a Zags' hat in the mall. Nobody was wearing Gonzaga stuff around town. Now you see it everywhere. For the community to take pride in us, we had to give them something. We thought we had the opportunity to do that in this town with the Kennel Club and some other things that were already established. It was just a question of how to grow it. 
Q:  As a dad of kids who are playing sports, what do you try to bring to that experience? 
A:  I think about the things that sports are going to bring to my children on the positive side: Camaraderie, learning to play as a team, learning to follow directions from a coach, practice, repetition, just getting better at things. But then there are the struggles that go along with it. I don't know how much to push it. All I really care about is my children being happy and healthy and safe and enjoying their lives. I don't really care about athletic success but at the same time, it's brought me a lot of wonderful things, so how much do I push it? I want them to have a childhood. Sports have a lot of unfortunate sides to them. You need to find a way to harvest the positive and avoid that other stuff. 
Q:  It's pretty clear that if you and your teammates had believed all the so-called experts 25 years ago, you never would have made it past Minnesota, let alone Stanford and Florida, and started a basketball revolution at a small Jesuit school in Spokane. What lessons can we learn from not believing those negative voices in our lives? 
A: That's a huge deal. You can't accept the label that people put on you. People who tell you you're not smart or not good looking or that you're not good at something. They'll tell you all kinds of things. You don't need to listen to them. I think with GU, some people labeled it as overreaching. We knew we had talent and if we outworked people, we could do amazing things, so I think that was an example for the region when it came to exceeding other people's expectations, not our own. Not everyone is dealt the same hand. My parents were loving and supportive but some people don't have that. You have to have some community that brings you together. 
Q:  Can you talk about what that '99 team meant to the greater Spokane community in terms of civic pride and being acknowledged as something other than a city in Seattle's shadow?   
A:  Spokane has a chip on his shoulder because we're constantly shunned by Seattle. You look at something like the North/South Freeway that's taken 300 years to build. We always take the backseat to Seattle. So, for us to be better than U-Dub and to be a basketball capital of Washington was a big deal. When people think about basketball in this state, they think about the Zags. When we're winning, the community is winning. We're taking pride in who we are. It's awesome. 
Q: How did the passing of your former GU teammate Jeremy Eaton last year from cancer affect you? 
A:  It's really hard for me because I wanted him to have the life he built for him and his son and be able to spend that time with him. He was so funny and such a good dude. When I came in as a freshman, we had too many bigs that year. The coaches already knew I wasn't going to redshirt. The coaches came to Jeremy and asked him to redshirt and he agreed. But instead of being upset at me, he worked super hard and got better. Not only that, he took me in and was so good to me when he could have been mad at me. 
Q: After qualifying for 25 straight NCAA Tournaments, a dozen Sweet 16s and two Final Fours and playing for the National Championship twice, this is a program that has developed some serious expectations. Do you think the average Zags' fan understands how it all began in 1999 with the program's first March Madness win since the tournament began 60 years earlier? 
A:  I don't know if everyone knows what happened or if they understand how difficult the path was or how tough it is to navigate the NCAA Tournament as a lower seed. It seems that now, every time the team has a little struggle, people will criticize the coaches or the guys and I don't think they know how much that hurts. You want to be unconditionally loved by your fans because criticism comes from everywhere else. We don't need it from our own fans. Sometimes, I think we forget the past because we're so quick to be disappointed or forget in sports that there are ups and downs and momentum and chemistry are a thing. I think we may understand but we don't keep it in the forefront of our minds. This team now, when they lose a few games, it's not like they're not trying hard or not making an effort. 
Q: Finally, when March rolls round, do you start to get that anticipation like you did when you were playing? 
A:  I love the tournament. I'm not a huge sports nut but I do think the NCAA Tournament is the most fun sporting event in the world. There's nothing like it. I like going to the early round games because you get to see so much basketball. I go crazy for March.

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