Team preview: Saint Mary's

For the most comprehensive previews available on all 335 Division I teams, order the "Bible" of college basketball, the 2012-13 Blue Ribbon College Basketball Yearbook, at www.blueribbonyearbookonline.com or call 1-877-807-4857.


Replacing Rob Jones will be challenging but expected at Saint Mary's, where wins have kept piling up in recent years despite the loss of players such as Patty Mills, Omar Samhan and 2011 West Coast Conference player of the year Mickey McConnell.

Besides, with 6-4 senior guard Matthew Dellavedova (15.5 ppg, 6.4 apg, 3.3 rpg) returning, the Gaels aren't exactly in pass-the-torch mode. Dellavedova, the 2011-12 West Coast Conference player of the year after leading the Gaels to regular-season and league tournament titles, followed that by playing a key role alongside Mills in Australia's run to the quarterfinals this summer in the London Olympics.

He was the Aussies' youngest player, but his game is mature beyond his years. Dellavedova is already Saint Mary's career leaders in assists, and he's second in 3-pointers (202) and ninth in scoring (1,380). However, his most essential value lies in assets without metrics.

"I mean, he's so tough," Saint Mary's assistant coach Rick Croy said. "He puts in so much time to get his game where it's at. It's really, really inspiring, and he's just an amazing leader.

Saint Mary's Gaels

"You would think a kid that works that hard would be somewhat judgmental of those around him, but he's just the opposite. He's very easy to go to battle with. He doesn't intimidate in any way. He's really special that way."

The Gaels coaching staff didn't make it to London, but watched like eager children on TV. Eventually, Dellavedova and Mills were jockeying with the likes of LeBron James and Kobe Bryant for rebounds in Australia's elimination loss.

"We were able to watch every game that they played," Croy said. "It was really special. That was such a great experience for Delly. I think if someone would've asked a couple of years ago, he probably would've thought 2016 would better his chance to be a starter and have such a prominent role. But it happened four years earlier for him, so it was awesome."

Perhaps opponents should locate the kryptonite equivalent for the Wolverine superhero. Many say Dellavedova resembles the Wolverine character, and he keeps one at his locker during games -- at home and one the road.

"He puts this little Wolverine caricature out on his locker before every game," Croy said. "I think it reminds him -- gets his head right where it needs to be before he goes out and competes. He's kind of like a folk super-hero around here with his toughness. People just respect that so much."

Jones' senior season set a similar standard. As all Gaels seem to do under coach Randy Bennett, Jones saved the best for last. He averaged 15.8 points, 10.8 rebounds and 2.3 assists. He was fifth nationally in double-doubles (20) and seventh in rebounding, and led the Gaels in steals.

"It's not just the 11 boards a game and 15 points, but he made so many tough plays," Croy said. "We've got to find guys that can step up and do that. He covered up so many mistakes, whether it be a big block or a big steal, just helping on defense. ... We're not a very athletic club, and he singlehandedly made most of our athletic plays."

There is experience in the frontcourt in 6-9, 250-pound redshirt sophomore Brad Waldow (8.1 ppg, 4.4 rpg) and 6-9 senior Mitchell Young (4.6 ppg, 2.8 rpg). The workmanlike Waldow exceeded expectations last season.

"He had a great freshman year," Croy said. "I think his fitness has improved, his ability to score on the block has improved. And I think, most importantly, he'll put together more good practices.

"Last year, he kind of got thrown into the fire, and it was a bit surprising for everyone the level he played at. I think the season got long for him. I think he's more ready to handle the whole season."

Transfer Matt Hodgson (6.3 ppg, 4.9 rpg in 2010-11) might reject the notion of any concerns with the Gaels' inside game. The 6-11, 255-pound junior set a Southern Utah single-season record with 64 blocks as a freshman in 2009-10.

Hodgson had a productive redshirt year in terms of conditioning last season. If that fitness trend continues, he could become one of the league's more productive centers.

The backcourt is stout with Dellavedova, 6-4 junior combo guard Stephen Holt (10.1 ppg, 4.7 rpg, 3.2 apg) and 6-1 junior Jorden Page (8.0 ppg, 2.3 apg, 1.9 rpg). Holt has all-conference tools, and the up-and-down Page has shown promise.

"I think Holt is gonna have a great season," Croy said. "He's so solid, so strong, so good defensively. He can shoot the ball, can take it to rim, rebound; just a very complete player and provides great leadership. He's really something. …

"Last year Jordy Page was kind of lightning in a bottle for us. If he can gain consistency in his game, he's gonna be a really nice player."

Junior college transfer James Walker (19.1 ppg) should begin in the rotation, and could eventually crack the starting lineup. The 6-3 guard was the Southern California JUCO player of the year last season at Citrus College.

"I think he'll have a chance to compete for real good minutes," Croy said. "He's a combo guard who can really score and get to the foul line. And he's very steady, which is why we felt like he was such a good fit for us."

The future is still iffy, to say the least, for SMU transfer Paul McCoy, who hasn't played for two years while trying to regain form after multiple knee surgeries. Croy still holds out hope for the return of the player who started 16 games as a sophomore at SMU but hasn't had a week's worth of practices in two years since transferring.

Depth in the frontcourt comes with 6-6 redshirt sophomore forward Beau Levesque (3.1 ppg, 1.7 rpg), 7-0 senior Kyle Rowley (1.0 ppg, 1.3 rpg) and 6-9 senior forward Tim Williams (1.2 ppg, 0.8 rpg). Rowley, who played his first season with the Gaels last season after transferring from Northwestern, made marked strides in the offseason. Levesque's numbers will also get a bounce in the wake of Jones' exit.

"By committee, I think, we're capable of having a really good front line," Croy said. "Brad can be a lot better on the glass, and then we're counting on Mitch Young, who had a great sophomore year and struggled a bit last year, to put together a great senior season."

The lone freshman coming in, 6-7 forward Chris Reyes, will probably redshirt this season.






Will the Gaels suffer a significant drop in interior scoring, especially in a league that should be bigger and better? Jones averaged 18.5 points and 12.0 rebounds during a double-digit sweep of a big, physical BYU team last season.

Complementary players such as Waldow and Young should be able to collectively reel in the slack, especially working with distributors Dellavedova and Holt, who each had a better than 2-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio in 2011-12.

Bennett has done a remarkable job identifying such unselfish gamers on the front end and pushing the right buttons to mold units and stimulate basketball IQs. Perhaps competitive, relatively selfless players are drawn to the low-key Bennett.

"He's got a great feel for the type of character he wants in the program," Croy said. "I think it's identification [on the front end], and then also … once we engage with the kids, it's never over the top in the recruiting process."

Saint Mary's is 133-36 (.787) the last five years. Bennett has taken the Gaels to four NCAA tournaments and two NITs. Suitors have called.

"I think the fact that he's had opportunities to leave and stayed at Saint Mary's says a lot to the guys in terms of who they're playing for and how much he cares about this place," Croy said.

Lofty success should be sustained for at least another season. Indeed, it'll probably take a good team playing at or near its best to put out the flame on Dellavedova's career.

For the most comprehensive previews available on all 335 Division I teams, order the "Bible" of college basketball, the 2012-13 Blue Ribbon College Basketball Yearbook, at www.blueribbonyearbookonline.com or call 1-877-807-4857.