By Jim Caple
Page 2

SPOKANE, Wash. -- Jack and Dan's Bar and Grill is such a Gonzaga University institution that it's been named an official historic landmark. It's owned by John Stockton's father, Jack, and is located just a 3-point shot from campus. It's a little like Hooters, except that in honor of Stockton, it's the male waiters who wear the too-tight shorts.

Jim Caple at Gonzaga
The Search For Mr. and Miss Bracket

Hah! That's just a joke. There are no ultra-tight shorts here. For one thing, it's not that type of place (this is a Catholic school after all). For another, it's too damn cold here. Maybe not Minnesota cold, but cold enough. Way out here in extreme eastern Washington  280 miles and a world away from Seattle -- Spokane has seen 20 below zero weather in November. Even now in March I arrive in a snowstorm so thick the headlights of my rental car are coated in snow and my windshield wipers grow a layer of ice within five minutes.

Whoaaaaa. Maybe we should have started our Mr. and Miss Bracket contest at UCLA. Or Florida. Or the University of Hawaii. I'm not sure what the Rainbows' RPI is, but I definitely like their UV rating.

In addition to the weather, Gonzaga posed a few other challenges for me and my ESPN colleague, Mary Buckheit.

Jim Caple and Mary Buckheit
Amanda Smith for ESPN.com
Jim Caple and Mary Buckheit embracing all that is Gonzaga. Now, they can be honorary Kennel Club members. (Amanda Smith for ESPN.com)

For one thing, our timing is a little off. We arrived on campus late in midterms week, and many students had already left town for an early spring break. One student said that our timing was bad in another respect, in that Gonzaga doesn't get too wild during the day. Or during the night. Or ever.

She's joking but Gonzaga also is a small university of just 4,000 or so undergraduates founded by the Jesuits in 1887 -- not only making it less than one-twelfth the size of Ohio State or Texas, but presenting a further ethical dilemma. The entry form requires a short 75-word (or less) essay detailing why each contestant considers himself or herself the most passionate fan in college basketball. Several Gonzaga students, however, say they don't think they should enter because, "I know I'm not THE most passionate college basketball fan in the country.'' Even Naismith award finalist Adam Morrison, who courteously poses for a photo after eating a sub sandwich for lunch, declines to fill out an entry saying, "I'm not a passionate fan.''

Damn Jesuits. They've taught these kids to be too honest.

Still, the Kennel Club, the student fan group, boasts 2,000 members, or half the university enrollment so basketball passion is high here. One student writes that the Kennel makes him feel he's part of something bigger than himself. And it's easy to see why. That's the way the best student sections make you feel, so much a part of one large extended family that you should be written into the will. Plus, the Kennel hasn't seen the Zags lose a home game since moving into McCarthy Athletic Center.

Then again, he might also just be light-headed from camping out in frigid near-zero weather and then moving inside to the 80 degree tropics.

"It's chaos, it's mania, there are really no words to describe it,'' Stephanie Janicki says of life in the Kennel. "Lots of bodies and very little space. It's hot. . . . It's sweaty . It smells of beer and B.O. I love it.''

She has just described my home office to a T but I must say, my wife isn't usually so enthusiastic.

Mr. and Miss Bracket Contest
Buckheit: Home, sweet home
Video: Searching UConn ESPN Motion
Caple: Orange love
Video: Searching Tennessee ESPN Motion
Caple: Bleeding UCLA blue
Video: Searching UCLA ESPN Motion
Caple: Go Zags or bust
Video: Searching Gonzaga ESPN Motion
Caple: The Search begins
Janicki shows up for her photo wearing a denim skirt, leggings, a bright red boa, pom-poms and sunglasses that Elton John would consider over the top. She's costumed only a bit less flamboyantly than Dorothy Lamour in one of the many "Road'' pictures that Gonzaga's most famous alumnus, Bing Crosby, made with Bob Hope. Only instead of Morocco or Zanzibar, she hopes to be on the Road to Indianapolis.

We're off on the Road to Indy!

A journey only for the Mighty and the Few

Maybe we'll wind up playing LSU …

OK. I'll stop.

Adam Morrison
Amanda Smith for ESPN.com
Who wouldn't cheer for Gonzaga's golden child? Adam Morrison comes out for the fanfare but admits his passion falters off the court. (Amanda Smith for ESPN.com)

We'll see how far the Zags get down this road. Gonzaga has carved out an outstanding program here in a location so remote Dick Vitale might have trouble spotting it on a map. Gonzaga has reached the tournament eight consecutive years, but in growing from Cinderella story to mid-major perennial, the Zags have lost some March magic. After reaching the Sweet 16 as a 10th seed or lower from 1999 through 2001, Gonzaga hasn't done so again despite being seeded as high as second and third (it winds up a No. 3 seed again). There has been plenty of criticism nationally for the low strength of schedule and great gnashing of teeth locally over the Zags' barely squeaking past a poor Loyola-Marymount team in the West Coast Conference tournament.

But what the heck? It's a brand new NCAA tournament, Morrison may be the country's best player, the Bing statue in front of the Crosby Center is sporting a cheesy mustache in his honor, we wind up getting more than enough entrants worthy of the term "Most Passionate'' and by midnight the beer is flowing enough at Jack and Dan's to easily take the chill off a late winter night and fill this eastern Washington town with March Madness.

Ready to show us why you're the ultimate college basketball fan? Come out to an on-campus tryout and show your school spirit. The next tryout will be at the University of Tennessee on Wednesday, March 15, from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Carolyn P. Brown University Center.

Photo credits: Amanda Smith for ESPN.com. Jim Caple is a senior writer at ESPN.com. His first book, "The Devil Wears Pinstripes," is on sale at bookstores nationwide. It also can be ordered through his Web site, Jimcaple.com. Sound off to Page 2 here.




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MR. & MISS BRACKET