by Michael Vernetti
First the good news: the Saint Mary’s White Team (Stefan Gonzalez, Tommy Kuhse, Jordan Hunter, Kyle Clark, Jock Perry) beat the Blue first-teamers (Joe Rahon, Emmett Naar, Jock Landale, Evan Fitzner, Calvin Hermanson, Tanner Krebs) 52-48 in Saturday’s intra-squad scrimmage.
Why is that good news? Because it reflects how even and deep the talent is on this team. The better news? The scrimmage result doesn’t tell half the story.
A stranger walking into McKeon Pavilion without any knowledge of the Gaels might have reasonably listed the following as can’t-miss stars:
Gonzalez. This is the real Pocatello Flash, not the recovering-from-broken-leg version we saw last year, who had to settle for being a three-point shooter. Gonzalez was all over the court, leading fast breaks, driving the lane and, oh yeah, draining two-of-four three-pointers, just about his average last year.
Hunter. Immeasurably more confident and skilled than last year, Hunter has added a polished offensive game (4-4 from the floor, 3-4 from the free throw line) to his rim protecting and rebounding repertoire. It will be impossible to keep him off the floor this season, no matter how excellent the post tandem of Landale and Dane Pineau (who sat out the scrimmage with a minor injury).
Kuhse (pronounced like the second syllable of ac-cuse). The Arizona walk-on looked entirely too polished to be a non-scholarship player, easily the most talented walk-on in Randy Bennett’s tenure as head coach. His line: 14 points on 5-7 shooting, including 4-5 from three-point land.
Thomas. Just because he looks like a future superstar. With his long arms and jumping ability — one jaw-dropping dunk in the scrimmage — Thomas would leave any WCC coach drooling with envy. This under-the-radar recruit may prove to be one of Bennett’s best, and could become the Gaels’ toughest perimeter defender since Wayne Hunter or Stephen Holt.
Perry. When you’re 7-1 or so you automatically draw attention, but Perry proved to be more than just a big body. He caught the ball well, moved his feet and put up a nice variety of shots (3-7). He looked very comfortable in the paint, and gives the Gaels more depth down low.
But wait, there’s more
What’s that you say? I’ve picked a walk-on, two true freshmen, a sophomore who played only 71 minutes and a guard who came off the bench in his freshman year. What about the guys who actually contributed to the Gaels’ 29-6 record last year?
Oh, them. They were great. Start with Landale, the 6-11 back-up to Pineau, who decided that the summer between his sophomore and junior years would be a good time to drastically alter his body. No longer the Pillsbury Doughboy of the Gaels, Landale has slimmed down and chiseled his frame to a point that he’s absolutely sylph-like. Because Pineau was relegated to the bench, Landale got the opportunity to jump center on the opening tip against the athletic and upwardly mobile Hunter.
Landale won the tip authoritatively, and went on to lead all scorers with 15 points (6-8 from the field, 3-3 from the free-throw line), tie Hunter for most rebounds (4) and play more minutes (24) than anyone else. He will push Pineau and Hunter for time in the paint.
Another body improvement award goes to Fitzner, the sophomore power forward with the smooth three-point stroke. Fitzner has added 10-15 pounds of muscle to his 6-10 frame, and looks ready to give opponents’ fits as a stretch-4 who can really shoot it. Naar and Rahon were their efficient, sneaky selves, although neither shot very well (Rahon 0-5, Naar 2-7). Naar did have had six assists, including at least two of the “Did you see that?” variety. They’re ready to go.
Hermanson made three straight three-pointers to kick things off, then enjoyed a leisurely afternoon of 17 minutes’ work. He, too, looks ready for action.
Clark was his usual dynamic self, and seems more confident in his shot than last year, although he made only one of five attempts. Krebs, too, looked better than his stats of 1-5, and has noticeably improved his ball-handling skills. Although many think of Krebs as a back-up to Hermanson at the 3, he played guard Saturday, including some time at the point, and looked comfortable.
The only disappointing note for fans was the absence of freshman guard Jordan Ford. He had to attend to a family medical emergency, and so wasn’t able to participate. His absence was Kuhse’s opportunity, the Kuhse made the most of it.
If you had to use two words to describe this Gael team, “big and deep” wouldn’t be bad choices. Including the walk-on Kuhse, Bennett has 14 players who could conceivably contribute this year. Observers agree he won’t saddle himself with having to satisfy that many, and opinions about who may redshirt are rampant among Gael fans. That will be a tough decision, but that’s why they pay Bennett the big bucks.
However he shapes the roster and determines his rotation, all the choices are good. There is no need to cover up for anyone on this team, and the potential seems unlimited. Although this is far from the quickest team in America, Bennett has shown that defensive tenacity can make up for quickness. Bennett even had his team — both Blue and White squads — play zone for the entire first half of the scrimmage, indicating he will be flexible in choosing the right strategy for the greatest success.
It all begins for real next Friday when a quick and talented Nevada Wolfpack rolls into McKeon. The Gaels look ready.
Freshman Elijah Thomas, shown above driving against Calvin Hermanson, showed limitless potential in the Gaels’ scrimmage Saturday. Photo courtesy of Tod Fierner.