When West Coast Conference Player of the Year Mickey McConnell graduated last spring, several college basketball experts predicted a decline in the Saint Mary’s men’s basketball program.
After all, in addition to the departed McConnell, the Gaels have lost such great players as Patrick Mills, Omar Samhan and Diamon Simpson over the last few years — players who have helped build the Gaels into one of the West Coast’s top college basketball programs.
However, it isn’t as though Randy Bennett’s cupboard was bare. There were still some very talented players in the Gaels program who read those predictions and were determined to prove the doubters wrong.
One such player is six-foot-six senior forward Rob Jones, one of the most dynamic players on the West Coast, who drew attention early in the season as one of the top rebounders in the nation.
A native of San Francisco who attended Archbishop Riordan High School, Jones played his first two seasons of college basketball at WCC rival San Diego and, while a Torero, earned a spot on the conference’s allfreshman team.After his sophomore season at USD, Jones was drawn back to the Bay Area due to family health issues. He spent some time at a local community college to earn his associate’s degree and then transferred to Saint Mary’s.
After sitting out the 2009–10 season and watching his teammates record the greatest NCAA Tournament run in school history, Jones was itching to get back onto the court and make his mark on the Gael program.
"Watching that Sweet 16 run from the bench was definitely difficult,” said Jones, who was named WCC Player of the Week after he soared to a career-high 31-point effort earlier this season against his former alma mater, San Diego. “But, I feel like I learned a lot and matured during that season. It was great being around that team, getting to know everyone and becoming more acclimated to the Saint Mary’s culture. Coach (Randy) Bennett has built a special program here, and it’s one that attracts not only great players but great people as well.”
Jones and Matthew Dellavedova — who played with the Australian National Team last summer — are the unquestioned leaders of this year’s team. During the summer, the duo led off season workouts and pickup games, provided direction to the younger players and served as leaders to a program that expects success, both on and off the court.
“Saint Mary’s is a wonderful place,” said Jones. “I wouldn’t trade my previous experiences for anything. But I love my teammates and my coaches here. I know I’ve created some lifelong relationships, and I’ll always be a Gael.”