By Erin Hallissy
The men’s basketball team has a new look this year after losing five seniors to graduation and Patrick Mills to the NBA, but head coach Randy Bennett likes what he’s seen so far.
"We’re different than we have been,” Bennett said in December. "We’re more offense-oriented. Our strength is our guys’ ability to shoot and pass. We have a nice mix of really good shooters and really good post men.”
The 2008–09 Gaels made it to the quarterfinals of the National Invitation Tournament and posted a College record 28 wins. This year’s team has six new players, including three players from Australia, Matt Dellavedova, Jorden Page and Mitchell Young, along with Valley Christian High standout Tim Harris and Beau Levesque from De La Salle High.
The team got off to a terrific start in preseason play, going 6–1 by Dec. 5, when they snapped Utah State’s 37-game home winning streak with a 68–63 win. However, starting guard Wayne Hunter tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee, and he’s out for the season. It’s a big loss for the Gaels because Hunter, a senior, is one of the best defenders in the country, Bennett said.
"I really like this team, but we just lost one of our better players, so somebody’s going to have to step up,” he said.
Bennett still has senior center Omar Samhan, named WCC Co-Player of the Month in November after he recorded a WCC-leading four double-doubles in the month, shot 60.8 percent from the floor and had 14 blocks.
"He just refuses not to be good,” said Bennett, who has been impressed with Samhan’s growth as a player, leader and ambassador for the College.
"It’s nice when players take as much pride and ownership in the program as you do as a coach. Omar is the one that does. He wants Saint Mary’s to be good for a long time, so he’ll do whatever he can do to make sure he doesn’t let the program down.”
Bennett is also impressed by Dellavedova.
"We were counting on him to be a starter, but I didn’t realize how good a passer he is. He’s exceeded our expectations to this point. He’s the hardest-working freshman that we’ve had here, and we’ve had some good ones.”
Returning guard Mickey McConnell, who ably replaced Mills during his injury last season, center Ben Allen and forward Clint Steindl are also expected to make strong contributions to the team.