Saint Mary’s Gaels
Overall Rank: #35
Conference Rank: #2 WCC
2007-08: 25-7, 12-2, 2nd
2007-08 postseason: NCAA
If Kobe Bryant describes you as too quick to guard, you know you are quick. That is what he said about St. Mary’s point guard Patrick Mills after facing him in the Olympics. Mills scored 20 points against the Americans, representing his Australian homeland in a quarterfinal loss. Back for his sophomore year, Mills will once again lead the Gaels into the NCAA Tournament. As a freshman he averaged 14.8 points and 3.5 assists per contest and his off-season playing with and against the best players in the world should have him prepared to dominate the WCC.
The concern in Moraga, California is just who is going to join Mills in the backcourt. Todd Golden, Tron Smith and Dubois Williams are all gone. Golden started all 32 games at the shooting guard spot and was a very consistent three-point shooter. Smith was the dynamic scorer off the bench and ranked fourth on the team with 8.0 points per game.
Some of the newcomers can help fill that void, most notably Wayne Hunter who redshirted last year after starting 24 games as a sophomore in 2006-2007. Hunter, who averaged 8.8 points per game that season, is a great athlete who will score by getting to the basket. His outside shooting leaves something to be desired, but he can certainly fill Smith’s role. Trey Anderson is the only other newcomer listed as a guard, but there are a ton of forwards and centers ready to make an impact. Ben Allen made six starts during his two years with Indiana before joining the West Coast’s Australian hotbed in Moraga. Allen’s offense was anything but consistent during his time with the Hoosiers, but he is a big 6-11 player who can stretch out the defense with his outside shot when it is falling. His contributions on defense will be more prominent. Phil Benson, a transfer from Canisius, Clint Steindl and Colin Chiverton will battle for minutes off the bench at the forward spots, as will incoming freshman Tim Williams. The 6-9, 235 pound Antioch, California product is a bruiser under the basket. Williams’ playing time this year might be limited due to the amount of depth and talent returning, but he has the skills to play a big role sooner or later.
Who to Watch:
Until Mills showed up, it was Diamon Simpson who was taking the Gaels to new heights. Put the two together, like last year, and St. Mary’s is really hard to stop. Simpson, a 6-7 forward, led the team with 9.6 rebounds and 1.8 blocks per contest and added 13.4 points. Some of his leadership role will be, and has been, handed over to Mills, but Simpson is still the leader of the frontcourt. And he has plenty of help up front. Ian O’Leary stepped into a full-time starting job last year. He is a good shooter, a solid rebounder and does everything one would hope from a small forward. Omar Samhan is the big guy who creates space in the paint. At 6-11 and 265 pounds, the word big might not be enough to describe him. But Samhan is more than just a space eater; he averaged 10.5 points per game last year and can even knock down the mid-range jumper. Yusef Smith and Lucas Walker will compete with the newcomers for minutes off the bench.
The only question remaining is at the shooting guard spot. Can Carlin Hughes step into a starting role and replace Golden? Hughes, a 6-2 senior, has the tools, but he only shot 31.5 percent from beyond the arc last year. Golden shot 45.9 percent. Hunter will get to the basket and do everything Smith did last year and that leaves Hughes as the main option to replace the outside shooting of Golden. If his shot does not improve, the Gaels offense will not be as effective as it was a year ago.
Projected Post-season Tournament: NCAA
Projected Starting Five:
Patrick Mills, Sophomore, Guard, 14.8 points per game
Carlin Hughes, Senior, Guard, 5.9 points per game
Ian O’Leary, Senior, Forward, 7.6 points per game
Diamon Simpson, Senior, Forward, 13.4 points per game
Omar Samhan, Junior, Center, 10.5 points per game