I know a million people would die to have my spot. The whole experience since Day One was way worth it. —Rem Bakamus
SALT LAKE CITY — The first person to race onto the floor at the end — the very first — was Rem Bakamus. He knows his part by heart.
A senior guard for Gonzaga, he has been along for the ride for a long time. But this is the end of the trail for the fifth-year senior. From here it’s on to the real world. Wherever that takes him, it won’t be nearly as exciting as this. He’ll leave a lot of practice time and a library of memories behind.
You won’t see Bakamus in the record books, or even in the box score. He saw as much action in Gonzaga’s 79-73 NCAA Tournament win over Northwestern as the cleanup crew. He played 30 minutes total during the regular season, 98 in his career.
Although this is his fourth time in the NCAA Tournament — five counting a redshirt year — he has played a total of three NCAA Tournament minutes, none this year.
All that practice for this much time. Seriously, is it worth it?
“Oh, for sure, I know a million people would die to have my spot. The whole experience since Day One was way worth it,” Bakamus said. “It’s a new experience and really fun every year, so it’s definitely worth it.”
To understand Bakamus, you have to see him. At 6-feet even — man bun included — he’s not imposing. He looks like the guy selling programs. After he walked on in the fall of 2012, they kept him around for his understanding of the system and, of course, his enthusiasm.
“I soak up every second I can,” he said. “I bring a lot of energy. That’s pretty much my job.”
So in warmups, he’s quick to pass off. In practice, he fills the gaps. When Nigel Williams-Goss made a three and theatrically shushed the crowd on Thursday, Bakamus ate it up. But a Northwestern push put the game in doubt, and when the Zags called timeout to calm themselves with 3:50 left, he jumped out for the huddle. Rather than get too close, he lurked on the perimeter, looking into the crowd. There was no need to watch the chalk-talk. He wasn’t getting a call.
“Throughout the game, you’ve got to stop and look around and say this is a big game,” he said. “It’s everything you’ve dreamed of, everything you watched as a kid, and so I make sure I soak it all in.”
There was a lot to take in on Thursday. Gonzaga surged to a 22-point lead in the first half. But steadily the Wildcats whittled away. The advantage closed to six with nine minutes remaining and was down to five with 4:33 to go.
Fans from both teams were at the edge of their seats.
For his part, Bakamus played his part. He sat at the far end of the bench, the last seat before bumping into Section D. When someone on the team required a high-five, he was happy to accommodate.
Need a word of encouragement? He has a dictionary full of it, just as he did in 2013, 2015 and 2016. He’ll never play pro basketball, but he’s a one-man positivity blitz.
In high school, he played for his dad in Vancouver, Washington. Though he was his conference player of the year, that didn’t translate into college interest. So he went to Gonzaga, not so much for the glory as for the growth. It didn’t take long to realize the last seat on the bench is better than the best seat in the stands.
As the seconds ticked down, and it became clear the Zags would make the Sweet 16 for the third straight year, Bakamus was in good form.
“Obviously,” he said, “it’s not very rewarding being a walk-on off the bench, but once you do stuff like this, it refreshes my memory that this why I do this, and it just makes it so sweet.”
The Sweet 16 can do that, even from the ends of the earth.