GLENDALE, Ariz. -- They puked, their stomachs revolting at the nausea-inducing camp rations that doubled as meals.
(They actually ate peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and other camping staples.)
They walked miles on treacherous terrain, dusk leading into nightfall making the journey even more difficult.
(More like a few yards to a lake, on a neatly groomed dirt trail).
They were left alone in the woods, abandoned to the elements and cut off from the world.
(They were actually at Farragut State Park, a little spot in northern Idaho that includes a disc golf course and an amphitheater on its 4,000 acres).
To hear the Gonzaga basketball players tell it, their two days of preseason team-building lacked only the ominous sounds of dueling banjos in the distance. “Survival camp," was Przemek Karnowski's take.
To hear coach Mark Few tell it, he’s just fortunate the Bulldogs aren’t a bivouac team.
“I don’t know that it was survival. I don’t know that I would call it camping," the experienced outdoorsman said. “I’d call it soft -- soft travel in the wilderness."
Asked what he learned in those early days, Few laughed.
“How soft they were," he said. “And it concerned me greatly at the time. I had no idea we were going to end up here based on my observations then. I would have put money that it wouldn’t have happened."
The irony is, in a lot of ways the Bulldogs are here -- their first Final Four, with a national semifinal date against South Carolina on Saturday -- because of that trip.
Few isn’t typically a team-building kind of guy. In his 18 years as head coach, he said team chemistry has always seemed to happen naturally, if not a little magically.
But with a mishmashed roster of players from quite literally all over the globe, including transfers, freshmen, and Karnowski, a fifth-year player returning from a debilitating back injury, Few heeded the advice of strength and conditioning coach Travis Knight and packed the team for the hourlong ride to Idaho.
It will not make any Orvis how-to guides.
Nigel Williams-Goss and Josh Perkins couldn’t even pitch their tent. Jordan Mathews hurled up the PB&J and declared that the only good news was that the mosquitoes weren’t as bad as he’d feared. Karnowski struggled to build a fire. Johnathan Williams summed up the entire experience for everyone -- “me and camping do not get along."
“Just amazing that they would be so frightful of being out in God’s country, in the dark where there’s absolutely nothing that could do anything to them," Few said. “But yet they have no issues wandering the streets of South Chicago or Los Angeles at night.’’
Yet out of the two days of wilderness ineptitude emerged a team that has won 36 of 37 games, held the No. 1 one ranking for four consecutive weeks, and finally crashed through its own glass ceiling with a Final Four berth.
Encouraged to talk about their disparate backgrounds and hometowns, the players got to know one another on a deeper level than just basketball and have referred back to lessons learned on that trip throughout the season.
“I give us credit for taking what we got on that trip, understanding how to work together and who we were and carrying it through the whole season,’’ Williams-Goss said. “That’s where our foundation started."
Even if they couldn’t pitch a tent on it.