Stockton key contributor as Gonzaga reaches for new heights
SPOKANE, Wash. (AP) — Everyone thought Laura Stockton would automatically play basketball at Gonzaga, where her father, NBA Hall of Famer John Stockton, is still revered.
Everyone but Laura.
“I tried and I tried not to come here,” said Stockton, now a senior guard for No. 13 Gonzaga. “I wanted to see where else I could go.”
Besides Stockton’s father, her mother, her older brother and other relatives were also athletes at Gonzaga, and she said she didn’t “want to fall into that mold. But this was the best fit for me and I couldn’t imagine being anywhere else,” Stockton said.
Why would she?
The Bulldogs (21-2, 10-1 West Coast) have tied the highest ranking in their history this season. Their only losses are to No. 4 Notre Dame early and at BYU in mid-January and they’re dominating the West Coast Conference under fifth-year coach Lisa Fortier. Their nonconference schedule has also included wins over No. 11 Stanford and No. 20 Rutgers.
“As you climb up a little bit you think this team maybe has a chance to do some special things,” Fortier said. “This year maybe we are better than we give ourselves credit for.”
While the fourth-ranked men’s team gets most of the national attention, the women’s team has been excellent for years. Former coach Kelly Graves led the Zags to their first NCAA Tournament appearance in 2007 — and to the Elite Eight a few years later — before leaving for Oregon in 2014. Graves has the Ducks ranked third this season.
Fortier, an assistant under Graves, was elevated to the top job and has posted a 119-37 record since.
This year she’s fielded a balanced team, with eight players getting 20 minutes per game. “Other teams just can’t compete with our depth,” Fortier said.
The Zags are led by Zykera Rice, who averages 14 points per game. Chandler Smith is the only other double-digit scorer at 10.
Four players — Jill Townsend, Katie Campbell, Jenn Wirth and Stockton — average between 9 and 8.4 points per game.
Stockton is a key contributor. She averages 8.4 points and 4 assists per game and has 42 steals this season. She is currently ranked fourth in team history in assists.
Laura learned the game from her father, the master of the assist.
“He’s the best there is,” she said. “He’s got so much knowledge of the game.”
John Stockton played for Gonzaga from 1980 to 1984, when the Zags were a middling program that never posted a record better than 17-11. The team has since retired his No. 12. A life-sized poster of Stockton in action hangs in a concourse of the McCarthey Athletic Center, part of a gallery of Gonzaga greats. He still holds the school record for career steals at 262 and is fourth in assists at 554.
The Spokane native was a first-round draft pick of the Utah Jazz in 1984 and set an NBA record with 15,806 career assists before his retirement in 2003. He and his family have lived in Spokane since then, and he is a fixture at Gonzaga basketball games.
Stockton has coached youth basketball and been involved in business ventures in his hometown. He also quietly has worked out with Gonzaga’s guards from the men’s and women’s team in the past.
Laura Stockton, who has five siblings, including an older brother who was a guard for the Zags before playing in the NBA and overseas, said the family connections to basketball have been good for her.
“It’s been so fun to have so many older siblings who also play,” she said. “Not only am I learning from my dad, but also my siblings.”
Fortier said the Zags recruit heavily in the West, and do well getting players from Washington state, where they are the dominant women’s program. This year’s roster includes six players from Washington and one from nearby Idaho.
But Fortier still recalls local players who got away, like Oti Gildon, who went to Oregon, and Angie Bjorklund, who went to Tennessee.
But she didn’t lose Stockton.
“I think we had to work hardest for her because she’s stubborn,” Fortier said. “She wanted to make sure she looked at all the programs and found the best fit for her.”
Laura Stockton said she was sold when Fortier posted a 26-8 record in her first year at the helm.
“I saw she was going in the right direction,” Stockton said.