SPOKANE, Wash. (AP)When Rasir Bolton decided to finish his college career playing far from home, it was about taking the next steps toward a professional career.
Becoming a fixture in the Spokane community wasn’t necessarily a priority.
“I wouldn’t say it was like the biggest thing on my mind trying to make a big impact in the community,” Bolton said.
But he has.
Bolton’s two seasons at Gonzaga will mostly be defined by whether he can help the Zags make a run during the NCAA Tournament as they seek their first national title. He played the final regular season game of his career Wednesday night when the 10th-ranked Zags thumped Chicago State 104-65 in a tune up for the West Coast Conference tournament next week in Las Vegas.
Bolton has started every game he’s played at Gonzaga and has averaged 11 points. He’ll be remembered in Spokane for far more.
“Rasir is very reserved, but are you kidding me, the way he rolls into our community … and he’s gathering up and helping people from the jump,” coach Mark Few said.
Bolton used the profile he’s gained by being associated with Gonzaga to help with several charitable endeavors. He’s also brought in teammates to help and embedded himself in a way he couldn’t have imagined when he left Iowa State for the next step in his basketball odyssey.
“I really just like the smiles on people’s faces,” Bolton said. “Like when they get something to eat. Or they’ll walk around like, ‘Oh, I haven’t had a coat in three years,’ and you give them two coats and a pair of gloves and it’s like their whole world is changed.”
Bolton’s activities are partly due to the relationship he developed with Rick Clark, a bit of a local celebrity because of his story of once being homeless and now serving as a conduit for getting help to those in need. Clark and Bolton connected in the fall of 2021 when Clark spoke to the basketball players about the impact their celebrity can have; they raised $9,000 running a live fundraiser while Clark talked.
“I let them know that because of all the hard work you guys have done, just by you being a part of it, it elevates whatever we’re doing,” Clark said.
Several players connected with Clark’s message, but none like Bolton. He’s handed out food and necessary supplies. He even threw on a tuxedo and posed for pictures when Clark’s organization threw a gala last year. One fundraiser in February included Bolton and some teammates trying to raise money for an elementary school in a low-income neighborhood.
“I just went and asked, and us doing things just turned into a love for the city and just being out there and helping out, and grow and immerse myself in the city,” Bolton said. “I really love it here in the community.”
Bolton’s work with Clark caught the attention of others within the program. Even after leaving Gonzaga following one season, Chet Holmgren worked with Clark last fall to get coats for kids in need.
The one likely to continue the outreach after Bolton leaves is sophomore forward Ben Gregg.
“I kind of want to use my name in a positive way and help out any way I can because I know how much it means to the community and how much people look up to us,” Gregg said.
Gregg grew up in a family that was actively involved in volunteering. His mother, Kori, is an executive with the United Way in the Portland, Oregon, area. It was second nature for Gregg to get involved once he saw what his teammate was doing.
But it was also cathartic. Gregg grew up a Gonzaga fan. He was a prized recruit. And the first couple of seasons did not go how he planned on the court. Those struggles with basketball lingered with him when he left the gym.
Once he started working with Bolton and Clark, Gregg said he got back to being “me again.”
“I just kind of locked myself in my room after practice and just didn’t really want to talk to anybody,” Gregg said. “But after starting to do those things, it just totally changed everything for me. I started performing better on the court, just found more joy in life again.”
Clark is hopeful Bolton’s work has created a foundation for a relationship that can extend to other Gonzaga athletes and continue after the basketball players wrap up their careers here.
“(Bolton) will leave here and go be successful and I don’t even know if he’ll ever come back, but that’s work that he set the groundwork for. Other students can come along,” Clark said. “And it shows that Gonzaga is not all basketball. There’s real life stuff happening out there and these kids they’re connected, they understand it and they want to be a part that.” — AP college basketball: https://apnews.com/hub/college-basketball and https://apnews.com/hub/ap-top-25-college-basketball-poll and https://twitter.com/AP-Top25