Samhan leads the Gaels to big time

PROVIDENCE, R.I. -- Few players have as much ownership and the stake in their program's legacy as Omar Samhan.

Sorry, but kids don't always grow up saying they want to play at Saint Mary's College in Moraga, Calif. History hasn't been too kind to the Gaels to command that kind of loyalty.

That's why Samhan is a rare breed. He grew up in nearby Sam Ramon Valley, Calif., and played at Sam Ramon Valley High. He watched the last great Gaels big man, Brad Millard, over come weight issues and injured feet to lead the Gaels to an NCAA tournament berth only to see his pro career cut short by the aforementioned issues.

Samhan wasn't exactly a hot commodity as a basketball recruit. He took the advice when Saint Mary's coach Randy Bennett looked at the 6-11, 310-pound specimen and told him he wouldn't be able to play unless he cut weight. So he did, down 60 pounds to a manageable 250. But even after three seasons, after playing as more of a complimentary player to Diamon Simpson and Patrick Mills the past two seasons, no one was convinced he could really be the leader, the focus of the team. No one believed Samhan could be a good, at times dominating, center in the college game that he has evolved into on the eve of Saturday's NCAA tournament second-round game against Villanova at the Dunkin' Donuts Center.