Turns out white people CAN dance.
For the love of Patty Mills and Mother Teresa, can a small-time Catholic liberal arts school in the middle of suburbia nowhere get some love from the locals?
Uh, no. I asked.
To celebrate St. Mary’s improbable run to the Sweet 16, I took it upon myself to do a little reporting, as I’m known to do when A) it’s convenient or B) my father’s involved. Luckily for the sake of this post, my father and his wife – aka my mom – live just a few miles down I-24 from the St. Mary’s campus in Moraga, Calif. Here’s the interview I conducted with Robb Hilson via text message on Saturday afternoon:
Sports Casualties: Good day for The Pixie. (referring to a prominent SMC alum)
Robb: Is that a question?
SC: No. Talking about St. Mary’s. Big win!
Robb: They beat ‘Nova???
SC: Where you been? GO CRAZY, MORAGA!
Robb: I watched the pre-game at gym and then forgot all about it.
As you can tell, Northern California is less than riveted by the pride of the West Coast Conference come Tourney Time. Would it help if the co-eds were forced to wear Catholic schoolgirl unis? Yes. It probably would. But as far as I know, this is not the case.
You probably think I’m over-generalizing based on a sample size of one. You’re wrong. Have you been to Moraga? It’s got rich white people, a 24 Hour Fitness, cows on a mountain, organic food shops, a four-movie theater and copious amounts of marijuana.
And that’s it. Now they have one of the 16 best college basketball teams in the country. Except the only people that seem even mildly interested are SMC’s 4,768 students, and Laura-Garcia Cannon, an NBC 11 anchor and proud Class of ’91 alum.
St. Mary’s has God on its side – obviously. But it needs your help. Here’s what you need to know to be qualified to hop the bandwagon.
The Long and Winding Road For starters, they’ve only been playing since ’07-’08 – 1907-1908. So that’s, what, 104 years of basketball? And this is only their sixth all-time dance invitation. The other five were fruitless – 1 win, total. You could say they’re the Kansas City Royals of college basketball – perennial doormat with a lone triumph – but that might be too big a compliment. Recent history hasn’t been half bad, though. SMC’s danced three times since 2005, and rode star guard/NBA draftee Patty Mills deep into the postseason just last year. It was the NIT, but still – 28-7 is impressive anyway you split it. White guy Bryan Holt is bullish about the future, writing, “I love St. Mary’s. They’ve been quietly building up to this for a few years now and they’re quickly becoming the new Gonzaga.” Surprisingly informed for a man that despises hoops, no?
A Season to Remember? Yeah. I think we’ve established this. St. Mary’s made the likes of Jay Bilas ask “Patty who?” after back-to-back ass kickings of tourney teams New Mexico State and San Diego State in their first two games of the year. Having outscored opponents 180-126, SMC was riding high for a home showdown against Vandy in game three. Unfortunately, the Commodores are an excellent engineering school and used their advanced math skills to outscore St. Mary’s by a deuce, 72-70. The school dropped a pair of regular season games to conference rival Gonzaga, but avenged those losses in Vegas with an 81-62 Zags throttling in the WCC Tournament championship ( 7,700 degenerate gamblers attended). Redshirt senior Omar Samhan – the 6’11” ogre up front – has been the team’s go-to guy all season, putting up a man’s 21 points-11 boards while landing conference defensive player of the year. Surrounded by a team of sharpshooters (41 percent on threes), he should have beat out Gonzaga’s Matt Bouldin for WCC player of year, but the voters looked at hair instead of stats and team performance. What are you gonna do? If nothing else, Samhan deserves his own Wikipedia page and probably solidified said spot in the digital ether with his Walton-like 13-of-16 for 32 points against Villanova in the round of 32.
Bracket Busters A 10 seed in the South, Saint Mary’s stepped on the seventh-seed Richmond Spiders 80-71 Thursday for their first Tourney victory since 1959 (when a 9-month-old Madonna was not in attendance). WCC Conference tourney MVP “Irish” Micky McConnell backed a 29-point outburst from Samhan with 23 of his own, and the rest of the undersized white guys upheld their reputation as “fundamentally sound” and “scrappy” by out-rebounding Richmond 40-18. Saint Mary’s then screwed over the Presidential bracket by downing Obama Final Four Pick Villanova 75-68 two days later. My father’s adamant disinterest did nothing to deter Samhan, who’s aforementioned monster of a game also included 7 boards, 2 blocks and some truly questionable facial hair. “This team is smart. It helps when you have smart players,” coach Randy Bennett told ESPN after the win. And really, what else can you say about a group of “throwback,” “gritty,” “old-school” guys with zero NBA potential? The Gails got 3-seed Baylor in Houston on Friday.
It’s “Gaels” not Gails, Jerk Admit it, you too thought that the Pride of Moraga was so named for the strong gusts in neighboring San Francisco. Call them what you want, just don’t call them a “lowland Scot” – Gaels are an indigenous Irish people. The all-white-starting-five starting to make more sense now? Thought so. Hell, they had to go to Australia just to find Mills. And when the two-time all-WCC star jumped to the pros, the Gaels continued to milk their feeder systems Down Under, luring star freshman Matthew Dellavedova from the Australian Institute of Sport. Dellavedova, as his surname would suggest, isn’t as athletically gifted as Mills, but he sure takes advantage of God’s gift to the white man. Or, as I like to call it, “the three-point line” – he hits at a 41 percent clip, second on the team behind McConnell’s doesn’t-this-guy-have-other-hobbies? 52 percent. All kidding aside, this squad is pretty much the reincarnation of Jimmy Chitwood’s ’54 Hickory High team. They’ve got a Beau and a Clint and a Mitchell. They’ve got a freaking Phil Benson. I mean, seriously, Phil Benson? The guy’s a walking stereotype. Kudos to freshman guard Jorden Page for breaking up the monotony in his second man off the bench role. (On behalf of a kid who’s nicknamed himself “afrobutterfly”: I know what it’s like. Solidarity.)
Sports Casualties has your back, St. Mary’s. Let those treys fly. Ten-foot hoops are the same size in Indianapolis as they are in Moraga.