For Gaels, plenty of optimism despite inexperience
Experienced players can make life a whole lot easier for head coaches. Just ask St. Mary’s Randy Bennett.
For the past two seasons, the Gaels relied on players — from Joe Rahon and Dane Pineau to Emmett Naar, Calvin Hermanson and Jock Landale — who had thrived on and off the court in Moraga for extended periods.
That meant Bennett didn’t have to spend that much time in preseason practices as a teacher and trying to figure out which rotations would suit his team the best.
“I knew that then,” Bennett said “and it was like, ‘Better enjoy (these seasons). You don’t get ’em like that very often,’ and this year, we’re back to where we’ve got to build it with a lot of different guys.”
Not that Bennett is complaining. Though point guard Jordan Ford and swingman Tanner Krebs are the only returnees among the top seven scorers from last season’s team that went 30-6 (16-2 in the WCC), Bennett believes the 2018-19 Gaels will more than hold their own.
“I like our personnel. I think we have more depth than we’ve had,” he said. “It’s just getting them all where they’re comfortable playing aggressive, knowing who’s supposed to make plays, being able to do their job over and over and over — that’s our challenge.”
Ford figures to become the Gaels’ main man. The junior
was a preseason All-WCC selection and will be the point guard after spending most of the previous two seasons as an off guard with Rahon and/or Naar at the point.
Ford’s game blossomed toward the end of last season. He improved his outside shot and became a threat on drives through the lane. Ford scored at least 18 points in five of the Gaels’ final seven games.
“I think it’s just a process,” Ford said about his progress last season. “I think every player has to go through it. Trying to slow the game down and just building confidence throughout the year. Toward the end of the year, I knew I was able to do certain things because I worked on (them) over and over and over again.”
Bennett said he expected Ford, Krebs and senior center Jordan Hunter will start in the Gaels’ opener against McNeese State on Wednesday. The coach had not settled on the other two starters.
There are seven players on the roster who did not play for the Gaels last season. Key among that group are sophomore forward Malik Fitts, a transfer from South Florida (“He’s a good stretch ‘4’ scorer,” Bennett said) and freshman Matthias Tass, a 6-foot-10 forward/center from Estonia.
“He’s an easy-to-play-with, good offensive player right now,” Bennett said of Tass. “He’s got to get better at some other things, but he’s really a highly intelligent basketball player.”
Hunter, Tass and 7-1 sophomore Jock Perry probably will share the post spot handled by Landale the past two seasons. Landale was the WCC Player of the Year in 2017-18 as he averaged 21.1 points and 10.2 rebounds per game.
“Are we going to have a guy just like Landale? No,” Bennett said. “But, we have a different look from all three of those guys. I think all three of them can be good players for us this year.”
Bennett is entering his 18th season as the Gaels’ head coach. In each of the past 11 seasons, they’ve won at least 21 games and reached the postseason (five NCAAs and six NITs).
That track record gives him confidence, even with an inexperienced team.
“I trust our guys. I trust what we’re doing,” Bennett said. “I think we’ll give our best shot, and usually I think that will get the job done.”
Point guard Jordon Ford (left) figures to be the Gaels’ main man, while forward Malik Fitts is competing for a top role.