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12 Gonzaga Experience, toughness and hunger make the Bulldogs this year's sleeper to watch


If you assume that the Gonzaga players have enjoyed hero worship
around Spokane since their blitz through the NCAAs that ended
with a 67-62 loss to eventual champion Connecticut in the Elite
Eight, think again. "I've been going to the same Safeway my whole
time here," says point guard Matt Santangelo, a fifth-year
senior. "So the people in the store should know me just because
I've been shopping there for five years. But every time I go,
it's, 'Thank you for shopping at Safeway, Mr., Uh...[Santangelo
squints at an imaginary credit card receipt] San-tan-gel-o.'
Spokane has a way of keeping you humble."

Coming so close to a Final Four berth also has a way of keeping
you hungry. The Bulldogs hope to satisfy that craving by relying
on seven players who are back from last year's team. The toughest
of them is 6'8", 235-pound junior forward Casey Calvary, an
already emphatic dunker and shot blocker who has added 20 pounds
of muscle and increased his bench press from 270 to 370 in the
off-season. Calvary, a history major who is drawn to study
England's past in part because of the number of beheadings, is
known for having a bit of a temper in practice. "Casey might be
the strongest player in the country," says senior guard Richie
Frahm, "and he takes everything personally. It's a measure of
your manhood just getting on the court with him."

Surviving practice with Calvary won't be Gonzaga's only test. The
Bulldogs will also face the toughest schedule in their history,
including road games against Cincinnati, Temple, UCLA and
Washington, all within the span of nine days. "I put that
schedule together when I was an assistant," says new coach Mark
Few, who took over when Dan Monson accepted the Minnesota job in
late July. "Now I'd kind of like to take a mulligan on it."


COLOR PHOTO: RICH FRISHMAN Hey, Bulldog Santangelo is making a name for himself everywhere except at home.



SF Mike Nilson 6'5" Sr. 2.8 ppg
PF Casey Calvary[1] 6'8" Jr. 9.4 ppg
C Axel Dench 6'11" Sr. 6.8 ppg
SG Richie Frahm[1] 6'5" Sr. 14.4 ppg
PG Matt Santangelo[1] 6'1" Sr. 12.7 ppg

1998-99 record: 28-7 Final rank (coaches' poll): No. 12 (tie)
Returning starter[1]