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Gonzaga player from Utah chooses LDS mission, misses team’s NCAA Tournament run

SALT LAKE CITY - It's a moment most parents would dream of, and the chance to watch his son play in a NCAA Tournament is almost too good for Utah's Eric Wade to imagine.

"I'm so excited," Wade said, while walking into Vivint Smart Home Arena Thursday morning.

Wade's son, Jesse, committed to Gonzaga University two years ago, when he was named Mr. Basketball as the best high school player in the state of Utah.

Salt Lake City is hosting two of the top four teams in the country during the opening two rounds of the NCAA Basketball Tournament, and one of those teams is Gonzaga.

But as Wade and his younger son, Josh, walked into the arena Thursday, they had no expectation of watching Jesse play.

"He’s serving as a missionary for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the France, Lyon Mission,” Eric Wade said of his son. "It was something that was important to him ever since he was a little kid."

Although it's common for athletes in Utah to take time off to go on mission, Gonzaga is a Catholic university. In fact, no recruit in the program's history has deferred enrollment.

"We are so appreciative for Coach Few for believing in Jesse, and planning on him being gone for a couple years," Eric Wade said of Gonzaga Coach Mark Few.

Gonzaga struggled from the field early in their first round match-up, but came on strong in the second half for the win.

Walking off the court, Coach Few noted, “We could have used Jesse today, he can shoot a three-pointer from 30 feet away."

Luckily, the Zags won't have to wait long to see him in a uniform. Wade will be back from his mission in France in 25 days. However, he won't suit up for a game until next season at the earliest.

“He’s going to be a really, really good player for us," Few said.