More than 21 years later, Marc Glass still vividly recalls the night, four games into his sophomore season, when he endured a college point guard's most embarrassing moment.
"It's the only time I can remember it happening to me, being picked clean in the backcourt like that," said Glass, who played 114 basketball games for Montana and is one of only four Grizzlies with more than 1,000 points and 350 assists.
Glass was dribbling upcourt in the first half at Gonzaga when he glanced over at the Grizzly bench. Whoops. The opposing guard, a skinny sophomore named John Stockton, darted in, stripped the ball from under Glass' astonished fingertips and sailed the other way for a layup. Glass fouled out with nearly as many turnovers (five) as points (six) that evening in Spokane, while Stockton had 12 points and five assists for the Bulldogs, who built a 20-point lead before holding on 80-77.
UM coach Mike Montgomery was steaming afterwards at the tentativeness of Glass and fellow guard Doug Selvig, both of whom were bedeviled by Stockton's quickness, aggressiveness and anticipation.
"I was totally undressed," Glass said. "The thing is, I knew exactly where John was, and the sneaky little guy still got me."
Glass paused, then laughed.
"I've been watching him do the same thing to other guys for the last 20 years."
Today, Montgomery is a decorated coach at Stanford University. Selvig coaches the boys' basketball team in Glendive. Glass heads an investment firm in Modesto, Calif. And Stockton? His improbable run as one of the most successful basketball players of all time is finally over - he quietly announced his retirement last week after 19 seasons, all of them with the Utah Jazz, as the NBA career leader in assists and steals.
This December marks the 50th anniversary of the opening of UM's Dahlberg Arena, and of the thousands of collegiate players who have graced that court, none are in the Basketball Hall of Fame - yet. But Stockton, the poster boy for short shorts and $5 haircuts from a little Jesuit school, is a lock for enshrinement in Springfield, Mass.
"I shake my head like everyone else," said Glass, 42, who joins his wife Kyla as the proud parents of a 10-year-old son and an 8-year-old daughter. "We played Gonzaga three times and there's no way I was saying to myself, 'I'm guarding a future Hall of Famer.' As a sophomore and a junior, (Gonzaga teammate) Bryce McPhee had as much of an impact. That's not taking anything away from 'Stocks,' that's just the way it was."
The irony is that Stockton could very well have wound up a Grizzly. He was a late bloomer in high school at Spokane's Gonzaga Prep, avoiding the hassle of Sports Illustrated covers, Hummers and throwback jerseys. But Montgomery and his staff coveted the consummate gym rat. Some accounts insist it came down to Montana and the school a couple of blocks away, Gonzaga, although Jack Stockton, John's father, can't confirm that.
"Of course, we knew the Griz," said Jack Stockton, who at age 75 still works daily at Jack & Dan's, the tavern he co-owns near the Gonzaga campus. "(Montana assistant) Stew Morrill had played and coached at Gonzaga before going to Missoula. I hated to see Gonzaga leave the Big Sky (in 1979), because it was such a great rivalry.
"I can't say that it came down to just those two schools. Idaho was in there, and so was Seattle Pacific. But that was it. Sure, it could've been Montana."
You wonder how different things might've turned out had Stockton decided to come 200 miles down Interstate 90 instead of staying home.
Glass, who started 83 games alongside the 6-foot-4fi Selvig as one of the tallest, most talented backcourt duos in UM history, wonders too.
"It would've been fun to play with him, instead of against him," Glass said.
Stockton was a freshman reserve in 1980 when Gonzaga won the inaugural Champion Holiday Classic in Missoula, going scoreless in a first-round win over Murray State, and netting four points down the stretch in the Zags' 59-57 championship win over the Grizzlies.
Then came the victory at Spokane in 1981. On Dec. 30, 1982, Gonzaga was just 4-5 when it came to Dahlberg to face a 10-1 Montana club that featured Glass, Selvig, Derrick Pope and a freshman reserve named Larry Krystkowiak.
By then, the 6-3 Glass knew his best strategy was to take it right at the 6-1 Stockton, and, sure enough, Glass had a solid night with 14 points and four assists. But although Stockton hit just 2-of-9 shots, his 10 points, eight assists and three steals were critical as Gonzaga prevailed 57-54 in the 140th meeting between the rivals. Stockton's smooth ballhandling never wavered, and the junior hit six free throws in the final two minutes to preserve the victory.
That remains the only night I ever saw Stockton play in person. Displaying extraordinary prescience, my account in the next day's Missoulian described Stockton as "scrappy." I also managed to get Gonzaga coach Jay Hillock to admit that one of his stars was "a better athlete than you think." Hillock, of course, was referring to the 6-3 McPhee.
The next year, McPhee blew out his knee, and Stockton showed he was more than a playmaker, shooting 57 percent from the field while averaging 20.9 points, 7.2 assists and 4.0 steals per game. Gonzaga didn't play UM that season, but the Griz knew all about Stockton, who was prompting a buzz among NBA scouts.
"I remember being incredulous as a senior, seeing the numbers he was putting up," Glass said. "I had tremendous respect for John, but I didn't think he was capable of taking over a game, the way Derrick Pope or Larry Krystkowiak could."
Glass played against Stockton after the season at the WIT tournament in Lewistown - Glass was the tourney MVP - and accompanied Stockton to a predraft camp in Chicago. That June, Portland was all set to take Stockton with the 19th pick in the first round, but Utah took a gamble and grabbed him with the 16th choice. Also drafted that year were Michael Jordan, Hakeem Olajuwon, Charles Barkley - and Marc Glass, who went to the Los Angeles Clippers in the fourth round, the 75th pick overall. Only two Griz, Krystkowiak and Micheal Ray Richardson, have been drafted higher.
The dream eluded Glass, who was invited to training camps with several NBA teams, including the Jazz during Stockton's second season. Glass suffered a leg injury early in that camp and was eventually cut; he would go on to play in the CBA, and overseas in Sweden and England.
"You could see that John was in a system where he had a chance to do good things," Glass said. "The other thing I distinctly remember from that camp was the trainers talking about this rookie from Louisiana Tech, Karl Malone. They were amazed at this guy who weighed 260 and had four percent body fat."
Stockton, it turned out, also had some rare physical gifts: a resting heart rate in the 30s; the wingspan of a man 5 inches taller; hands the size of catcher's mitts; quick feet and even quicker hands.
"And he was so competitive," Glass said. "He wasn't just scrappy, he was annoying. I wouldn't call him a dirty player, someone like Bill Laimbeer. But John knew all the angles, all the tricks."
Asked to rate the best guard he faced in college, Glass didn't choose Stockton, or Leon Wood, the Cal State Fullerton star who was chosen 10th - six spots ahead of Stockton - in that 1984 draft. Instead, Glass picked two-time Big Sky MVP Ken Owens of Idaho, the heart of Vandal teams that went 52-7 and made consecutive NCAA tournament trips in 1980-82.
"Owens was strong, fast and had great court presence," Glass said. "Stockton was Š quieter. He was sneaky."
Sometimes, greatness barges through the door, grabs you by the scruff of the neck, and shakes you silly. Sometimes, it sneaks up on you.
"I thought if he just letters in high school, he'd be doing great," Jack Stockton said. "Then he ended up starting as a sophomore, and I thought, maybe he can play a little in college. That's the way it was at every level. He got better. Things kept rolling."
Next stop: The Hall of Fame.
Rial Cummings can be reached at 523-5255 or firstname.lastname@example.org. His column appears Sundays.