Robert Lumpkins practiced on Thursday and will play tonight as will Kelly Merker, Bandja Sy and even wing Tyrone Watson. Lumpkins was nursing an ankle injury but is expected to play.
I spoke with assistant coach Mick Durham, who said that the Gaels go through 6-11, 260 pound center Omar Samhan. Samhan does have a bit of a challenge though because he doesn't have an experienced player in the frontcourt with him after Diiamon Simpson, who was a three-time first team WCC forward, graduated. The Aggies will need to get into transition and knock down the open shots because Samhan ranked 40th in the country last year in blocks per game. The experience factor should also be interesting because St. Mary's have three fifth-year seniors on the roster. junior guard Mickey McConnell replaced Pat Mills early in the season last year and now runs the show. Duram believes freshman Matt Dellavedova (one of three newcomers from Australia) will back him up and can shoot better than Dellavedova. McConnell and Dellavedova could be the starting backcourt when the Gaels come to Las Cruces next year. St. Mary's had scrimmages against Washington and Nevada.
Here are some comments from St. Mary's ninth-year coach Randy Bennett, who has spent his entire career at St. Mary's, starting with his relationships in Australia when he was an assistant coach at St. Louis and he brought Andrew Latimer over.
"If you are not one of the big bigs and in one of the big conferences, you have to find different areas to recruit. Somehow you have to find good players. There are lots of good coaches in this country and what is hard to find is good players, good kids who are good students. For us we found a niche and have established with a pretty good name. Marvin has done that too in Africa. Nowadays it's a global game and if you have a strong connection you have to tap into it. (Latimer) helped me know who to touch base with in Australia. There weren't that many in Australia coming over. There were guys there but in the last six or seven years they have been a lot more coming over."
On getting NMSU on the schedule for a home and home
"It's a basketball rich tradition. Marvin has done a good job and they have a bunch of good players and athletes. Playing in Las Cruces is one of the toughest places to play and fortunately we don't have to go there this year but next year we will. People recognize them in the west and those are the types of teams that we try to play in home and homes. I think we are both struggling to find home games and this is one that our fans recognize will be a good team."
On his team being picked third in the West Coast Conference behind Gonzaga and Portland
"The bottom of the league is better and hopefully the top is as good as it was last year but I'm pretty sure the bottom has come up and we needed that to happen for our league. Our RPI wasn't as good last year as it has been. When the bottom teams are better, that's when you can get your league pretty good. There was a pretty big gap the past couple of years and hopefully that has closed."