By John Crumpacker, WCC Columnist | @CrumpackerOnWCC
While the long Thanksgiving holiday period offers a bounty of WCC basketball games on television, there's no substitute for actually being at a game in person to form opinions on everything from the kind of sneakers the players are wearing to which coach pitches the best display of pique.
Two players stood out for me for different reasons last week in games I attended involving conference teams. The first was Jett Raines of Pepperdine when the Waves played at San Jose State on the 19th and the other was Brad Waldow of Saint Mary's playing against UC Irvine on the 23rd.
With a handle like Crumpacker, I've always been interested in names, first and last, and their etymology. Thus, Jett Raines. His given name is Austin but please call him Jett. Everyone else does.
Raines is a 6-foot-7 forward for Pepperdine, as useful and versatile for the Waves as a Swiss Army knife. In last week's 63-44 victory at San Jose State Raines had a game-high 21 points to go with 8 rebounds and 2 steals.
Raines teams well on the court with fellow forward Stacy Davis, as both are juniors beginning their third season playing together. Each has a sense of where the other will be at crucial times. Such as with 4:40 left in the San Jose State game when Raines slipped along the baseline, took a pass from Davis and dunked. He was fouled on the play, converted from the line and pushed Pep's lead to 58-44.
"Stacy and Jett feed off each other,'' Pepperdine coach Marty Wilson said of his dependable duo. "We're obviously excited about the win, excited about a road win. They're hard to come by. I thought our team was prepared. Our guys did a better job of executing the game plan, especially on the defensive end.''
On that end of the floor Raines (7) and Davis (3) combined for 10 defensive rebounds. Davis also contributed 5 assists while Raines had those 2 steals.
"I've been playing with him since I was a freshman. I've been on the court a lot with him,'' Raines said of his teammate. "I owe a lot of my basketball to him. I know how to move with him in the post. We work on passing a lot. I can get some good looks just by not doing much.''
Asked to assess the man named Jett, Wilson said, "No. 1, his energy is unbelievable. He gets his second wind and it's hard to match his energy. We won some games last year off his energy.''
As for that high-flying handle, Raines said he was christened Austin (he's from Texas, after all) but eventually went with Jett, his mother's maiden name.
For Pepperdine, this Jett doesn't seem to run out of fuel.
Over in Moraga, Saint Mary's will ride Waldow, its 6-10 center, for all he's worth, and his value to coach Randy Bennett's team is significant.
Despite at times facing a player eight inches taller than him, Waldow equaled his career high with 28 points in the Gaels' 72-69 victory over UC Irvine. Waldow had eight of those points on four baskets he scored around and over Irvine's 7-6 Mamadou Ndiaye.
"As a kid, those are the shots you want to do,'' Waldow said. "I've put in a lot of work on them.''
Three times Waldow scored on reverse layups and on another bucket he sank a high-arcing shot over the long, long, long arms of Ndiaye. Waldow also had 7 rebounds, 2 blocks and a steal.
"I've played against tall guys like that,'' Waldow said. "I'm used to playing against size like that.''
Waldow said that when he was in high school in Shingle Springs, Ca., he had occasion to play against a Chinese junior team that had one player who was 7-8 and another who was 7-5. So facing Ndiaye was right in his wheelhouse.
Unlike most other teams in the conference, the Gaels are not involved in a holiday tournament at this time. Their next game is Saturday against Cal Poly, an opportunity to push their record to 5-0. If Bennett's team can get past Cal Poly and Boise State on Dec. 6 - both at home - it will take a 6-0 mark to Creighton on Dec. 6 in its first road game of the season.
"This is a great confidence booster,'' Waldow said after the Irvine game. "We faced a lot of adversity but we pulled it out because we're the tighter and tougher team.''
Tighter and tougher?
"That's our motto,'' Waldow said.
After the game, Bennett almost neglected to mention Waldow in his comments to reporters before saying, "Obviously, Brad played well. ... He's made some strides in his overall game and that helps us.''
What had Bennett most enthused afterward was what this game, and the win over New Mexico State a week earlier, might do for the Gaels at the end of the season when the NCAA Tournament field is selected.
"It could be significant in a lot of ways,'' he said. "At the end of the year it will be a good RPI win, this one and New Mexico State. That gives you confidence.''
Bennett looks like he has a pretty good team in the making with such complimentary players as Kerry Carter, Aaron Bright, Emmett Naar and Desmond Simmons but in the end, the Gaels will go as far as Waldow takes them.
John Crumpacker spent more than three decades working at the San Francisco Examiner and San Francisco Chronicle. During his career he has covered the full gamut of sports from prep to professionals. Most recently, Crumpacker served as the beat writer for Cal through the end of the 2013-14 season. In addition to covering 10 Olympic Games, Crumpacker served as the beat writer for the San Francisco 49ers. He is a two-time winner of the Track & Field Writers of America annual writing award and has several APSE Top 10 writing awards.