Saint Mary’s landed its third commitment in the Class of 2015 Wednesday night, as 6-foot-2 point guard Stefan Gonzalez announced via Twitter that he’ll join Randy Bennett’s program next season. Gonzalez attends Highland HS in Pocatello, Idaho, where he averaged 19.7 points per game as a junior. Gonzalez’s ability to crack defenses off the dribble and solid perimeter shooting ability are areas scouts have cited as positives when assessing his skill set.
Gonzalez played for the Idaho Select program this summer, alongside Oregon State commit Tres Tinkle and Montana commit Jared Samuelson.
Gonzalez joins guard Tanner Krebs and guard/forward Kyle Clark, both of whom are from Australia, as 2015 prospects who have committed to Bennett’s program. The Gaels, who won 23 games and finished fourth in the WCC last season, will lose some backcourt pieces at the end of the 2014-15 season.
The group of players who will be out of eligibility at the end of the upcoming season include graduate transfers Aaron Bright and Desmond Simmons, and seniors Kerry Carter (9.3 ppg) and Garrett Jackson (3.9 ppg).
With that being the case the Gaels needed to add pieces to the backcourt in order to account for those losses. In addition to the three verbal commitments Saint Mary’s will also add Boston College transfer Joe Rahon, who will have two years of eligibility remaining after sitting out the 2014-15 campaign. Joe Coleman, who sat out last season after transferring in from Minnesota (7.2 ppg as a sophomore in 2012-13), will be a redshirt senior in 2015-16.
There’s no denying the fact that point guard Matthew Dellavedova graduated as one of the greatest players in the history of Saint Mary’s basketball. In four seasons at the WCC school “Delly” was a three-time All-WCC selection and a two-time honorable mention All-American. A personnel loss that big isn’t something a program simply glosses over and moves on, and for that reason more than a few prognosticators immediately decided that the Gaels were ill-equipped to challenge Gonzaga and BYU for the WCC title.
But now that they’re 8-0 on the season following an 82-74 win at Boise State on Saturday, it’s become quite apparent that it wasn’t wise to make that hasty conclusion.
Thanks to the hot shooting of Stephen Holt and James Walker III, who shot a combined 7-for-9 from three in the first half, Saint Mary’s led by as many as 16 points before the Broncos cut the margin to just two points at the half. More than a few teams in that spot would wilt when on the road against a formidable opponent, but Saint Mary’s didn’t. Instead the Gaels became even more balanced offensively, with four players scoring at least six points in the second half.
Holt led five players in double figures with 24 points and six assists, and the performance was his most productive of the season to date. With leading scorer Brad Waldow accounting for just five points in the first half the Gaels needed players to step up and Holt did just that, scoring 18 of his 24. It would be unfair to ask any one player to fully replace Dellavedova, given what the graduated point guard provided in both stats and intangibles. But it it isn’t unfair to expect Holt and Walker (can’t forget Kerry Carter either) to do much of the heavy lifting on the perimeter, and thus far they’ve done that.
It’s safe to say that Waldow’s going to score more than he did against Boise State (11 points, 11 rebounds), as he entered the game averaging a team-best 18.6 points per game. But with the guard play and the presence of forward Beau Levesque, a relatively quiet night for a player who’s one of the WCC’s best big men isn’t a deal-breaker for Saint Mary’s.
Next weekend the Gaels will play in the Diamond Head Classic, and with possible games against Boise State (semifinals) and No. 17 Iowa State (final) Saint Mary’s can potentially pick up another quality win or two before WCC play starts. But through eight games it’s become clear that at the very least Saint Mary’s can finish in the top three of the WCC for an 11th consecutive season.
And a conference title shouldn’t be considered unrealistic for this group either.
Saint Mary’s and head coach Randy Bennett have lost an appeal to the NCAA to have their sanctions dropped according to John Infante of the Bylaw Blog.
Bennett will serve a five-game this season during WCC games and the program will lose two scholarships in the 2014-15 and 2015-16 seasons, for what the NCAA deemed a failure to promote an atmosphere of compliance.
Bennett appealed both the findings and the sanctions (he was required to file a separate appeal for the penalties assessed to him) and lost both cases based on the findings.
John Infante of the Bylaw Blog broke down the rulings:
Bennett challenged not just the suspension imposed on him but also the findings of the Committee on Infractions. The Infractions Appeals Committee did not rule on one of Bennett’s points, that the Notice of Allegations was too unspecific. Instead, the IAC simply ruled that there was enough evidence presented to the COI to find the violations charged and those violations were enough to support the penalty imposed on Bennett.
The good news for the Gaels is that the NCAA sanctions didn’t change their postseason aspirations, although the loss of Bennett during five conference games will hurt them this season. The scholarship losses should affect Saint Mary’s in future seasons, but not in the immediate future.
The Saint Mary’s basketball team has grown considerably under Randy Bennett. The Gaels have qualified for the NCAA Tournament four times during Bennett’s 11-year stint as head coach.
However, multiple sources have confirmed with ESPN.com that Saint Mary’s has been under NCAA investigation this year, looking into possible recruiting violations.
According to ESPN’s Andy Katz the NCAA has declined to comment on the issue. He went on to add that it’s uncertain what Saint Mary’s is even under investigation for.
ESPN attempted to contact Bennett, athletic director, Mark Orr, director of media relations, Mike McAlpin. All of these calls went unanswered, except for McAlpin, who said he would look in to the matter, but hasn’t responded since last week, according to Katz.
Sources have also confirmed with ESPN.com that former assistant coach David Patrick was interviewed by the NCAA.
Patrick, now an assistant coach at LSU, abruptly left the Gaels in 2010 to become a scout for the Houston Rockets. Patrick, who was suspended for a year by the NBA for working out players during the lockout, helped recruit several Saint Mary’s players from Australia, notably guard Patty Mills.
Katz also noted that several WCC coaches stated Bennett was absent during the July recruiting periods. Bennett did have back surgery in June and when asked if Bennett was held out of recruiting or whether he was recovering from surgery, Saint Mary’s compliance officer, Stephanie Shrieve declined to comment, according to ESPN.
The Gaels finished 27-4 last season, before losing to Purdue in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
Terrence is also the lead writer at NEHoopNews.com and can be followed on Twitter: @terrence_payne