SPOKANE, Wash - There is no doubt nearly all of Spokane is cheering on the Zags as they head to the Final Four for the first time ever, but this is also a special time for the men who helped make Gonzaga a national powerhouse nearly 20 years ago.
If you live in Spokane, you know the Zag fandom has no end. "It's unreal," said former GU player Mike Nilson. "I mean, people bleed blue here, which is really cool."
The city is on edge, waiting to see just how far the Zags can go, and so are the team's former players.
"When I came to this school, our dream was to make it to the tournament, or to win a game in the tournament and to see what this program's done over the last 15, 20 years to sustain that Sweet 16, Elite 8 level, I didn't know it was possible," Nilson said.
"They're great Zags, like, they're great guys. They get along well, they're humble and it couldn't have happened to a better group," said former player Matt Santangelo.
Santangelo and Nilson both played for GU when the Cinderella team made its first Elite Eight run in 1999. Almost 20 years later, they've remained in Spokane. Santangelo is the director of Hoopfest and Nilson is the strength coach for the Zags and an owner of U-District Physical Therapy. They say it's the community in Spokane that kept them here after graduation.
"There's a connector through the university and through Coach Few and through all of us that has really created this own family inside a family. And I think that is one characteristic that makes Spokane really, really unique," said Santangelo.
Now, with a real shot at a national championship, it's hard to describe what that means as somoene who dedicated their collegiate career to Gonzaga basketball.
"If I don't have words for the FInal Four, I can't even comprehend what the next step or next level would be," Santangelo said.
Both Nilson and Santangelo will be among many for Zag players who will be watching the team's historic run in Phoenix this weekend.
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