Despite Hall of Fame father, senior needed to win over skeptics


SAN DIEGO — The earth’s shadow can be observed during twilight hours, assuming the sky is clear. It stretches over 180 degrees of the horizon.

It’s a hefty dose of darkness.

It must be how David Stockton feels some days as a point guard for Gonzaga.

He is a senior now, facing the end of his college basketball career with his team’s next loss, a kid who arrived as an invited walk-on and the son of the program’s greatest player not named Adam Morrison.

He arrived under the skeptical glance of others who were convinced Stockton’s place was earned only by his father’s Hall of Fame resume.

He will depart school having made believers of many.

“He never had any expectations,” Gonzaga coach Mark Few said. “Not one iota of entitlement. You would have thought his dad was a bricklayer from a little eastern town in Washington. He’s a ferocious competitor. He will go down in history — and we’ve had some great ones – as one of the best competitors ever to come through this program.”

Which means, in this particular way, he is very much like his father.

John Stockton never played in the NCAA Tournament for the Zags, something his son will do for a fourth straight season today when Gonzaga as a No. 8 seed in the West Region plays No. 9 seed Oklahoma State at Viejas Arena.

The elder Stockton is better known for his 19 NBA seasons with the Utah Jazz and his role on the original “Dream Team” of Olympic glory, but he also averaged 20.9 points and 7.2 assists as a senior with the Zags.

He chose to stay home in Spokane, Wash., and play for Gonzaga and, for that, his loyalty was repaid throughout his pro career with a sort of worship often bestowed by small towns on their heroes.

He never wanted any fanfare. He was showered with it anyway.

The son is different, obviously.

He’s not the entire puzzle, merely a piece.

He has started all 34 games this season and averages 7.5 points and 4.2 assists, a player who is one of the best nationally playing off ball screens. Maybe some of that is natural instinct. Maybe some of the old man’s talent really did rub off on him. Maybe the kid grew up watching thousands of hours of Utah Jazz tape.

He is beyond slight at a listed 5 feet 11 inches, 165 pounds, but Few can’t remember Stockton ever missing a practice, and when the Zags want a tougher-than-usual day and go to the old Michigan State rebounding drill called “War,” the point guard is almost always first in line against the team’s post players.

“(David) is incredibly durable,” Few said. “He’s a much better defender than when he was a youngster, a much better leader, especially down the stretch of games, and more comfortable offensively.”

It was a common belief across college basketball that if there was a year to get Gonzaga in the West Coast Conference — the Zags have now won 12 of the past 13 regular-season titles — it was this one. That with transfers such as former Kentucky player Kyle Wiltjer set to join the lineup next season, Few’s team will continue to dominate its league.

But here it sits in the NCAAs again, a 28-6 side that faces a Big 12 team led by one of the nation’s best point guards.

Marcus Smart made as much news this season for pushing a Texas Tech fan as for again earning all-conference honors, but he will be the most recognized and celebrated player in the 8-9 matchup, opposing a guard whose cheering father in the stands is far more recognized and celebrated than he ever will be.

“I never really worried about what people thought when I came here,” David Stockton said. “I just tried to write my own legacy. Play my own game. I’m playing with more confidence, feeding off the other guys, trying to do anything I can to make this team the best it can be.”

Hmmm. Sounds a lot like someone else.

Las Vegas Review-Journal sports columnist Ed Graney can be reached at egraney@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4618. He can be heard from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday on “Gridlock,” ESPN 1100 and 98.9 FM. Follow him on Twitter: @edgraney.