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West Coast Countdown: Extreme Program Makeover: Saint Mary's Edition

Nov. 13, 2008

The 2008-09 season could be a pivotal one for Saint Mary's. The Gaels enter the season ranked in several preseason publication top 25 lists. Saint Mary's begins the year currently ranked #27 in the country by ESPN/USA Today and #29 by the Associated Press. The Gaels were also selected to finish second in the WCC Preseason Coaches poll and should once again challenge Gonzaga for the conference crown.

To truly appreciate the accolades bestowed upon Saint Mary's this season, you must remember where the program was eight years ago. The Gaels finished the 2000-01 season with a 2-26 overall record and a 0-14 mark in conference play. Enter Randy Bennett. In his seven seasons at Saint Mary's, Bennett has become the school's all-time wins leader (127) and transformed the Gaels into a top 25 program along the way.

Proving exactly why he was named the 2008 WCC Co-Coach of the Year, Bennett led the Gaels to a 25-7 overall record, matching the school mark for wins, and earning a second at-large berth to the NCAA Tournament. In addition, last year's squad was ranked in the top-25 in the ESPN/USA Today Coaches' poll for eight weeks. Bennett has led the Gaels to the WCC Tournament semifinals every season, including the WCC Tournament finals in 2004 and 2005.

Bennett and the Gaels return eight letterwinners and four starters from last season's squad, three of which were All-WCC selections. Among those are 2008 WCC Defensive Player of the Year Diamon Simpson, and 2008 Newcomer of the Year Patrick Mills.

THE GAELS' TOP RETURNING PLAYERS
NAME YEAR
POSITION
2007-08 KEY STATS
Patrick Mills Sophomore
Guard
14.8 ppg, 3.5 apg, 1.8 spg
Diamon Simpson Senior
Forward
13.4 ppg, 9.6 rpg, 1.8 bpg
Omar Samhan Sophomore
Center
10.5 ppg, 7.3 rpg, 51.5 FG percent

SAINT MARY'S BACKCOURT

Sophomore guard Patrick Mills turned heads last season as the 2008 WCC Newcomer of the Year.


This past summer, sophomore point guard Patrick Mills, who led the Gaels in scoring last season with 14.8 points per game, gained arguably the most experience, and for that matter exposure, of any Division I player in the country. Mills, who set a Saint Mary's freshman scoring record with 465 points, starred for his native Australia in the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics. The experience that the 6-0 guard gained competing against some of the best players in the world should translate into on-the-court success for the Gaels.

Also expected to be back in action is junior guard Wayne Hunter, who redshirted last season. One could argue that SMC returns five starters as Hunter made 24 starts for the Gaels in 2006-07. Hunter, who averaged 8.8 ppg and 3.2 rpg that season, is one of the top perimeter defenders in the conference and should bolster the Gaels' already staunch defense.

The Gaels also welcome back senior Carlin Hughes and sophomore Mickey McConnell. Hughes, who scored a team-high 18 points in the Gaels win over Drake last season, and McConnell give the Gaels two excellent ballhandlers in the backcourt.

Saint Mary's also has two new freshmen guards that will complete for playing time, Collin Chiverton and Trey Anderson. Chiverton (6-5) ended his career with 1,535 points at national powerhouse Archbishop Mitty, while Anderson (6-4) averaged 22 points per game at Hebron High.

SAINT MARY'S FRONTCOURT

Senior forward Diamon Simpson is just 164 rebounds away from becoming the Gaels all-time leader in rebounds.


The Gaels boast arguably the deepest frontcourt in the conference, led by 2008 WCC Defensive Player of the Year and All-WCC first team member, Diamon Simpson. The senior forward enters his final season at Saint Mary's already as one of the best players in program history. He paced the Gaels with 58 blocks last season, and enters the season as the program's all-time blocks leader (182). Simpson, who was also the team's second leading scorer with 13.6 points per game, is just 164 rebounds away from becoming the school's all-time leader in rebounds.

Simpson will team with 6-11 redshirt junior center Omar Samhan, who garnered honorable mention All-WCC recognition after ending last season as the Gaels' third leading scorer (10.5 ppg) and second leading rebounder (7.2 rpg) and shot blocker (1.34 bpg). Samhan, who ranked fourth in the WCC in field goal percentage (51.5 percent) last season, joined Simpson and Mills on the 2008-09 WCC Preseason all-conference team.

Also returning this year is versatile senior forward Ian O'Leary, and a pair of rugged senior forwards in Yusef Smith and Lucas Walker. O'Leary was one of five players to start all 32 games, while averaging 7.6 points per game and 4.8 rebounds. The 6-8 Smith provides the Gaels with toughness off the bench, but also can step outside and hit the three (42.5 3-pt percent). Walker, a native of Launceston, Australia, appeared in 25 games and ranked second on the team in field goal percentage (52.6 percent).

The Gaels welcome in three talented newcomers in junior transfer Ben Allen (6-11) and freshmen Tim Williams (6-9) and Clint Steindl (6-7). Allen, a transfer from Indiana, is another product of the Australian Institute of Sport. Allen, a talented offensive player, can cause matchup problems for the Gaels' opponents with his height and his ability shooting ability. Williams averaged a double-double with more than 20 points and 10 rebounds per game at Antioch High School during his senior year. Steindl, another Australian to join the squad, played two seasons at the AIS.