GLENDALE, Ariz. - On any given day, Gonzaga coach Mark Few will remind his team to always strive to get at least one percent better each day. To, "water the bamboo."
It's a reference to a motivational book called "Water the Bamboo," written by Few's good friend and former college roommate at Oregon, Greg Bell, who played guard for the Ducks basketball team from 1981-1985.
"Basically the whole premise and the thought and the major point behind it is bamboo, when you plant it, you water it and water it -- and I'm going to kill this -- but for four years or something, nothing happens," Few said Thursday during a press conference at the University of Phoenix Stadium, site of the Final Four. "But then in the first year it grows -- after that, that subsequent year -- then it grows 50 feet or something...So it's about, you know, the process of preparation and physically, mentally showing up, doing your job with practice and focusing in on the things that you can control. We call that the process. And then eventually you're going to reap the rewards of that."
Close enough. The overriding principle is to pay attention to the little things, focus on the details and allow oneself to flourish overtime in any aspect of life, professionally or personally. Bell, a motivational speaker who specializes in individual growth and team building, published his book in 2009.
Bell, who holds political science and law degrees from the Oregon and has appeared on CSN's Ducks Hoops Tonight, said he often has dinner with Few when he and Gonzaga are in Portland to face the Portland Pilots. They did the same prior to the Bulldogs' 83-64 win at Portland on Jan. 23. But this time, Few had the wild idea.
"Typically we go grab Thai food with Mark the day before the U of P game," Bell said. "Rarely do we talk hoops, just family and kids. But this year after dinner he asked that I say a few words to the team. I happened to have some "Water the Bamboo" wristbands in my car and I talked to them after their film session."
Bell said his message is more about the watering (the process) than the bamboo (the result).
"It's about showing up everyday," Bell said. "Focus on the watering and the results will take care of itself."
The players loved the message Bell delivered.
"You’ve got to take it one day at a time and get better everyday," redshirt sophomore guard Josh Perkins said when asked about Bell's speech to the team. "Small opportunities, I think people overlook. I think that concept helps you make the best of every situation and improve in every way. Because if you get one percent better everyday, you get better.”
Junior guard Silas Melson, out of Portland's Jefferson High School, said Gonzaga players constantly remind one another to "water the bamboo." Some even tweet motivational notes using #WaterTheBamboo
"Throughout the whole season it might take a long time to reach your peak as a team but by March you want to meet your peak and that’s why we keep watering that bamboo," Melson said.
Now Gonzaga (36-1) is in its first ever Final Four where it faces South Carolina (26-10) on Saturday.
So, has "water the bamboo" worked for Gonzaga?
"I just want to tell everybody, I give 100 percent to "Water the Bamboo" and the book and the approach," Few said with a laugh while plugging the book for his friend. "It's a life changer."
Hyperbole aside, Few, named AP Coach of the Year, said he believes his team certainly benefited from Bell's talk.
"Look, to have Greg, I mean, he was in my wedding, one of my closest friends, to be able to come talk to our team in Portland and give us the book and give us the little bracelets and all that was great," Few said. "And I think it resonated with them. The thing he said that I wholeheartedly believe that we kind of used as a mantra this year was just try to get, like, one percent better each week. Just one percent better. Whatever it's at. And if you can do that every week, well, then we have something."
Players still wear the wristbands.
“No matter what happened the day before you want to grow from it," Melson said. "Or if you’re having a bad day you want to grow.”
Bell gave a talk to the Oregon football team in 2009 that then coach Chip Kelly talked about during a press conference. Bell has also given talks to the Portland Trail Blazers. He started Coaches versus Cancer program that North Carolina coach Roy Williams is involved with, according to Bell. He said that he has had great conversations with Oregon coach Dana Altman, who has opened his door to all former players. The Ducks face the Tar Heels in the second Final Four game on Saturday.
That gives Bell connections to three of the four teams at the Final Four. It also sets up a possible conflict of emotional interest should Oregon and Gonzaga advance to Monday's championship game.
"I would be so conflicted," Bell said. "But it's like if your brother played against your alma mater you'd root for your brother. In so many ways I want it to happen, but in so many ways I don't."