Omar Samhan

St. Mary’s Falls off the Tracks

Every once in a while, writing on BART can be a little unsettling.

When it’s 7:30 on a Friday, and you’re the only one in the middle of the train’s rear car with two rough looking guys with ample facial hair on opposite sides of the same car as your only company, it takes a second to decide whether or not to pull out the laptop.

Maybe I’m being paranoid, or maybe it’s because we just passed Lafayette, and therefore, Moraga, the sort of proud home of the St. Mary’s Gaels.

Alright, that’s being a little unfair (and yes, I’m bitter that another one of my Tourney picks went down), a lot of good came from this past season. Randy Bennett has built a solid program up in the hills in a fairly short time, so good that he’ll be rumored to be in line for every open Pac-10 coaching job until he actually takes one. Patrick Mills came in as a freshman from Australia, but immediately became the team’s leader on the floor. As brilliant at times as any amateur point guard in the country, the speedy Mills will definitely be lured into the NBA Draft quite soon.

The team did win 25 games, but they finished the season sputtering and collapsing like Eric from the Real World/Road Rules Gauntlet the other night, just without the probably unnecessary hospital stay. They lost two of their last four regular season games, they fell to San Diego in the semifinals of the WCC Tournament, and their season ended today with a 78-64 loss to Miami in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.

It wasn’t just that they lost to the Hurricanes, but they led most of the first half before taking a 32-27 lead at halftime. Then they got crushed, giving up 38 points to Miami’s Jack McClinton.

The hope is that Bennett doesn’t take another job, but I’d be surprised if he did. Who knows, maybe St. Mary’s will decide that even a 4,000 student school should have a top-level Division I program and back up the old money truck for the hottest Bay Area coach this side of Don Nelson. Plus, why go to Oregon State, a horrible team in a tough conference in Corvallis?

Next year, St. Mary’s should be an even better team, unless Mills gets an agent this summer. And even though the WCC had three teams in the Big Dance, it’s still a much easier road than the Beavers would face next year. And Moraga is certainly a more idyllic place than pretty much every medium-sized town in Oregon, albeit far more expensive.

Hopefully center Omar Samhan, who’s one of my favorite interviews and stands at least 6’10”, can improve on the conditioning he did last summer when he dropped about 20 pounds. He has the hands and skills around the basket to play professionally, but he should be a much more effective shot-blocker.

Actually, the easier way out would be if Samhan just grew some facial hair. These guys sitting on the train with me haven’t even opened their eyes since Rockridge and I’m still intimidated. I’m thinking a solid Fu Manchu would convince at least one NBA scout into thinking Samhan is an intimidating presence in the middle.

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