We knew they could shoot, dribble and rebound, but turns out these Gaels can deliver one-liners pretty well, too.
Closing out 2015-16 at the annual team banquet Wednesday night in Moraga, the players and coaches took turns taking gentle shots at each other. The unmistakable love and respect they have for one another came through the many barbs that kept the audience in stitches throughout the night.
Introduced by Franklin Porter as the player having the “sloppiest rig (worst body) on the team,” Jock Landale was unruffled. Looking elegant in a well-tailored grey suit and glasses that seemed tiny atop his 6-11 frame, Landale said he was fine with his body because he had “the most attractive face” and was the best-dressed.
Emmett Naar, who donned a jaunty bow tie along with several other Gaels, had the job of introducing his longtime friend and teammate Dane Pineau. Deadpanning beautifully, Naar announced, “I don’t really like Dane.” He went on to praise Pineau’s great nose for the ball, adding that his fellow Aussie actually “has a great nose for everything.”
When it was his turn to introduce teammate Joe Rahon, Pineau returned Naar’s barb by commenting that although “he’s nearly 22, he still gets 12-and-under tickets.” Rahon, on the other hand, gets senior rates, Pineau quipped, and is in bed by 9:30. And so it went.
Rahon called out walk-on guard Jack Biebel, whom Gael fans see only in garbage time and other specialized moments, as “the healthiest guy I know.” Biebel ate so many carrots, Rahon said, that he turned orange at one point in the season, becoming “the first Oompa Loompa on the team.” Praising the impact Biebel’s healthy eating habits had on his teammates, Rahon said Biebel “turned fat Emmett Naar into chubby Emmett Naar.”
Rising sophomore center Jordan Hunter revealed something of fellow soph Evan Fitzner’s attendance habits, commenting, “Fitz is 47% from the field and about the same percentage in the classroom. If we had two banquets, I know Fitz would be up for only one.”
Coaches into the act
The players weren’t the only ones trading jibes. David Carter, who could have a career as a stand-up comedian as well as a coach, noted that Naar should be friends with Pineau because of the many times Pineau made up for Naar’s defensive lapses by blocking shots taken by Naar’s man. He mimicked Naar standing still as his man went around him, then thanking Pineau for bailing him out.
For all the humor, Carter didn’t try to hide his admiration for Pineau’s defensive toughness. He recalled one moment from last season when the Gaels called a time out and Pineau came to the sidelines bleeding profusely from his nose. “He was yelling and firing everyone up while his nose was bleeding,” Carter said. “He doesn’t back down from anything. I never had a guy [like Pineau] who brought it every time,” remarked the coach who has been coaching for 17 years, including six as head coach of Nevada-Reno.
Head coach Randy Bennett, guided by the flawless emceeing of Bay Area TV sports reporter Matt Maiocco (Comcast Sportsnet), reacted humorously to a question about the dubious foul on Gonzaga guard Eric McClellan in the final seconds of the Gael victory over the Zags in Moraga.
“Oh, so that’s down to me,” Bennett said. Referring to Rahon, who committed the foul, Bennett commented, “You would think that a guy who was an academic all-American could count to seven.” He also chided Rahon’s back court mate Naar for not alerting Rahon to the fact that the Gaels had already committed six fouls, then seemed to re-think the situation.
“Those guys (Naar and Rahon) were pretty smart,” he said. “They knew McClellan was going to miss the free throw.”
Bennett was also serious at times, particularly in response to a question from Maiocco about whether he anticipated the success of last season’s team (29-6).
“No,” he said. “The only thing I knew was how committed they were to playing the right way. From day one they had a great attitude. They were the best I’ve ever had at that. I didn’t know what that would lead to, but it’s rare in college basketball. They get it. It’s a team sport.” He praised the parents of all his players for raising them right and added that he’s “never had a better group” in his 15 years at Saint Mary’s.
Asked by Maiocco when he realized they might be pretty good, Bennett said early-season scrimmages with Pac-12 teams Washington and Arizona — both of which the Gaels won — made him think they could be successful. By the time the Gaels played California (Dec. 12 ), “I thought we could be good,” he said. Even though the Gaels lost to Cal 63-59, Bennett said the game was a milestone. “The guys thought they should have won.”
Bennett repeated his criticism of the NCAA Selection Committee and its decision not to award the Gaels a bid to the NCAA Tournament despite their outstanding record. “It’s a moving target” to meet the NCAA Selection Committee’s criteria, which are never made clear to college teams, Bennett said, adding the field should be determined solely by RPI ratings. “Basketball is the only college sport with a selection committee,” he noted.
He expressed confidence that Saint Mary’s and Cal would continue playing each other in the future, although the details remain undetermined. “I’m pretty sure we’ll have a series with Cal,” although “they want to do it on their terms,” he commented. “We’ll get them at home one of these years.”
Noting the home game against Stanford last year, which the Gaels won handily, and a rematch at Stanford in 2016, Bennett said, “We’ll play those two teams (Cal and Stanford) on a regular basis. Maybe Cal at our place every other year, maybe every third year. In a few years, it’ll happen.”
Their were also moments to honor individual players during the night. Bennett got the ball rolling, in a way, with his introduction of redshirt freshman Tanner Krebs, the Australian sharpshooter who spent his first year in Moraga riding the bench. Krebs was sidelined, Bennett said, because of “the funny way the NCAA looks at transcripts,” meaning there was some question about how Krebs’ academic record in Australia matched NCAA requirements. The same issue forced Naar to sit out his freshman season.
I erred in an earlier post about the Gaels short-handed situation in the back court caused, I said, partly by Bennett’s decision to redshirt Krebs. Turns out the decision was made by the NCAA, not the coach.
Even though it was a setback, Bennett said Krebs handled the NCAA ruling “as well as he possibly could.” Bennett rarely praises untried players, but said of Krebs, “This guy can play” and he gives the Gaels “a chance to be a little better next year.” For those who specialize in deciphering Bennett’s sometimes cryptic comments about Saint Mary’s in general and players in particular, that constitutes a rave. Keep an eye on Mr. Krebs in future years.
Formal awards went to Calvin Hermanson for Most Improved Player, to Pineau for Defensive Player of the Year and to Naar and Rahon as Outstanding Leaders. Gael assistant coach Marcus Schroeder, in presenting the award to Hermanson, rattled off several stats illuminating Hermanson’s improvement between his freshman and sophomore seasons, including minutes and points per game. Schroeder struck a chord which seemed to epitomize the challenge to the Gaels going forward with a quote about Hermanson’s achievement:
“Change is inevitable, growth is optional,” Schroeder quoted.
The Gaels made that choice consciously in 2015-16. It’s seems likely they will continue to make it in the years ahead.
Emmett Naar and Joe Rahon are already one of the best back courts in the nation. The photo above indicates they may be making sartorial news as well. Photo courtesy of Tod Fierner.