Summer School in the WCCPosted by Brian Goodman on July 30th, 2010
Michael Vernetti is the RTC correspondent for the West Coast Conference.
Around The WCC
- Gonzaga and Saint Mary’s have finished first and second in the league standings for six of the last seven seasons (Santa Clara finished second in 2006-07).
- Saint Mary’s won its first-ever WCC Conference Tournament in 2010, crushing the Zags 81-62 and earning an NCAA Tournament bid that saw them sweep through two rounds over Richmond and Villanova before crashing and burning in the Sweet 16 game against Baylor.
- The Zags received an at-large bid to the NCAAs, and beat Florida State before losing in the second round to Syracuse. Both will be back with strong squads in 2010-11.
- It has been a relatively quiet off-season in the WCC, with no head coaching changes or game-changing player transfers. All teams recruited well, and all are jockeying for position in the upcoming season.
- Saint Mary’s, with its WCC Tournament victory over Gonzaga and success in the NCAA Tournament, has established itself as the team to beat in the league. Although the Gaels return five of the top seven players who propelled it to a 28-6 season, questions will arise over the candidates to replace the two who won’t be back – dominating 6’11 center Omar Samhan, who compiled a 20-10 season, and his frontcourt sidekick Ben Allen, the 6’11 Australian who contributed 10.7 PPG and 7.6 rebounds per contest. Creighton transfer Kenton Walker, who stands 6’9, will be Samhan’s replacement in the post, and Walker is credited with giving Samhan all he could handle at practices during his mandatory year on the Gaels’ bench. Gael insiders expect him to surprise a lot of teams with his athleticism and defensive quickness. Saint Mary’s returns starting guards Mickey McConnell and sophomore Matthew Dellavedova, who combined for nearly 26 points and 10 assists per game last year. McConnell was the nation’s leading three point shooter last season. The duo will also make for tough practice competition for prized incoming freshman guard Stephen Holt. At the power forward spot, coach Randy Bennett will most likely start Rob Jones, the San Diego transfer who, like Walker, sat out last season after changing schools. The Gaels are also looking for a big year from junior small forward Clint Steindl, who showed flashes of three-point shooting brilliance the past two years, and will be called upon to contribute more consistently on offense while avoiding foul trouble.
- Gonzaga: The Zags’ decade-long dominance of the WCC showed signs of weakening last year, with losses to Loyola Marymount and San Francisco in the regular season and a shellacking by Saint Mary’s in the conference tournament. If they are to win the regular season conference championship for the 11th straight year in 2010, the Zags must answer questions about backcourt leadership. Marquise Carter is a talented plug-in for the departed Matt Bouldin, but it will be a challenge for him to provide the leadership and all-around court presence that Bouldin did. Senior sharpshooter Steven Gray will be asked to help fill the leadership void, and the Zags could get a major boost from Mathis Keita and Mathis Monninghoff, two European players whose addition to the roster has yet to be made official. Stepping into a strong frontcourt will be Sam Dower, a 6’9 center from Minnesota who red-shirted last season. Dower will add depth to a lineup that includes the spectacular Elias Harris, ever-improving Robert Sacre and promising sophomore Kelly Olynyk. The Zags suffered the largest rash of player defections, with four highly-touted players leaving – Bol Kong, Andy Poling, G.J. Vilarino and Grant Gibbs. Turnover is also taking place on the coaching staff, with Few breaking in a new assistant, Donny Daniels, from UCLA.
- Loyola Marymount: The biggest news for Lions fans is the return of 6’10 center Edgar Garibay, who redshirted last year after tearing his ACL in the team’s seventh game of the season. When he went down, the Lions lost a strong, young player who was poised to make a major impact as a freshman. With everyone back from last year’s Lions squad except starting forward Kevin Young and substitute guard Given Kalipinde, it may be time for the Lions to roar. They are balanced, as Garibay’s return will be coupled with an experienced backcourt of Vernon Teel and Jarrod DuBois (15.4 PPG and 12.3 PPG last season, respectively). They also will benefit from Drew Viney’s polished moves and accurate shooting at small forward. If head coach Max Good can keep the injury bug away, LMU’s depth will lead them to contention for a top spot in the WCC and a post-season tournament berth, so they’re my Dark Horse for 2010-11.
- Santa Clara: The Broncos are another team anxiously awaiting the return of an injured star, point guard Kevin Foster, who could be the key to head coach Kerry Keating posting his first winning season since taking the reins in 2007-08. Foster was one of the most exciting players in the WCC in his freshman year in 2008, and ended the season by being voted WCC Co-Newcomer of the Year before breaking his foot early in the 2009 campaign. A completely healed Foster will reduce the strain of sophomore point guard Robert Smith, who was asked to do too much as a freshman and led the team in minutes played. Foster’s return will also mean more open looks for Mark Trasolini, who has shown he can score both inside and out, and give returning frontcourt starter Niyi Harrison more opportunities as well. If incoming post man John McArthur becomes a steady option down low, the Broncos will have a shot at earning fourth-place and a first-round bye in the WCC tournament.
- Portland: The Pilots will not go easily into the WCC’s second tier, and if a few things break right for Eric Reveno’s squad, it could remain a league force in 2010-11. Reveno’s problem is twofold – find a replacement for star point guard T.J. Campbell, and do the same for frontcourt stalwart Robin Smuelders. Portland fans hope the latter problem is resolved by a strong senior season from hulking 6’10, 270-lb forward Jasonn Hannibal, who showed signs last season of leaving the “project” stage and becoming a reliable contributor. The Pilots corralled a stockpile of newcomers to replenish the cupboard. In fact, Portland’s season will be an interesting case study in roster construction, as the seven incoming players match the number of returning letter-winners. The newbies are led by Ryan Nicholas, a 6’7 forward from Spokane’s Gonzaga Prep, and Tanner Riley, a 6’3 guard from Mount Si High School in North Bend, Washington.
- San Francisco: Rex Walters continues to create enthusiasm around the San Francisco program despite encountering obstacles in his team as well as his staff that would dampen most people’s spirit. Before last season started, he lost projected starting point guard Dominique O’Connor to injury, and after the season ended, he lost outstanding shooting guard Kwame Vaughn to transfer. Vaughn’s unexpected departure combined with the graduation of scoring machine Dior Lowhorn (18.4 PPG last season) took away much of the Dons’ scoring punch. To top things off, Walters saw his top assistant, Jeff Linder, take a similar position at Boise State, a hole he filled by promoting Justin Bauman and hiring Michael Lee, a former Kansas Jayhawk (like Walters) and a two-year assistant at Gardner-Webb. To keep the momentum going from last year’s 7-7 finish in the WCC – the team’s most wins in conference since 2007 – Walters hit the recruiting trail hard. Six freshmen will join the Dons in 2010, led by Cole Dickerson, a 6’7 wing player from Federal Way High School near Seattle. Dickerson was named Washington Player of the Year by a local newspaper for his senior year performance. If O’Connor comes back from injury and steps into the point guard spot, Walters has adequate guard strength in holdovers Mikey Williams and Rashad Green to make a formidable backcourt rotation. If Conner has not fully recovered, or struggles otherwise, it’s up to the unproven newcomers Cody Doolin, Avery Johnson and Marko Petrovic to supply leadership in the backcourt. In the paint,Walters can count on strong minutes from 6‘10 center Moustapha Diarra, 6’8 forward Perris Blackwell and 7’0 center Tomas Bruha, but wouldn’t mind if freshmen Dickerson or Justin Raffington pushed one or more of them aside.
- San Diego: Like Portland’s Reveno, San Diego’s Bill Grier has big shoes to fill with the graduation of the four main contributors from last season’s 11-21 season: guards Brandon Johnson and De’Jon Jackson, and forwards Chris Lewis and Roberta Mafra. Unlike Portland, however, San Diego is coming off a disappointing year and is basically building from scratch around sophomore forwards Chris Manresa, Ken Rancifer and guard Matt Dorr. Two of his five recruits have potential star stamped on them – Dennis Kramer, a 6’10, 220-lb forward from La Costa Canyon HS in Encinitas, and Ben Vozzola, a 6’4 guard from Las Vegas Centennial High School. Sophomore forwards Manresa and Rancifer are about all Grier has to build on in the frontcourt, putting pressure on incoming frosh Kramer, Simi Fajemisin and Trevor Fuller to contribute immediately. Same for the backcourt, where Vozzola will be looked upon to buttress returnees Dorr, Patrick McCollum, Devin Ginty and Cameron Miles, with perhaps some support from redshirt freshman Jordan Mackie. Keepp an eye on Toreros transfer Darian Norris, who may also figure prominently in Grier’s plans.
- Pepperdine: The Waves have been one of the quietest teams in the WCC since Tom Asbury came out of retirement to re-take the coaching helm. They haven’t won much, but they have stuck with their nucleus of junior guard Keion Bell and senior forward Mychel Thompson, aided by Lorne Jackson, Jonathan Dupre, Dane Suttle and Taylor Darby. Not much has changed heading into 2010-11. Waves’ recruits include the massive center Jan Maehlen (7’0, 330 pounds) from Ironwood Ridge High School in Tucson, Arizona via Germany, and 6’6 small forward Hector Harold from Pasadena, California and Northfield Mount Hermon, a prep school in Massachusetts. The Waves took a European trip in May, winning three out of four games against Italian professional squads. Either the Waves’ core of Bell, Thompson, Jackson, Darby and Dupre explodes this year or it may be another long winter in Malibu. They’ve been together long enough to have cohesion, and Bell and Thompson are true stars, but this crew hasn’t excited many people in the past several years.
The result of Gonzaga’s foray into the European prep market is an intriguing plotline to follow. Will Keita and Monninghoff be cleared, and if so, how will they adjust to the American style and what challenges will they encounter on the way? There is a ton of young talent about to come through the pipe, and the conference is accepting applications for the next wave of stars following the departures of Bouldin, Raivio, and NCAA Tournament media sensation Samhan.