The value of tradition

by Michael Vernetti

What does it mean that Patty Mills’ team beat Matthew Dellavedova’s team 117-113 in a hard-fought, wildly entertaining Gael alumni game Sunday afternoon?

That the game’s leading scorer and most electric player, E.J. Rowland, is unknown to many current Gael fans because he played more than a decade ago and has labored in Europe ever since?

That many fans wouldn’t recognize the current version of Omar Samhan, the former Ponderous Post Player reborn as a skinny, jump-shooting three-point bomber (with a mullet)?

That more than 100 former Gaels, stars and journeymen included, turned out for the second all-star celebration — so many that even two games couldn’t accommodate them?

I think it means that Randy Bennett has built a living, breathing organism called Saint Mary’s Basketball that didn’t exist before he came to Moraga in 2001. We celebrated the Tom Mescherys and Steve Grays in odd moments, but Bennett has enshrined the past as part of something that can now be called Gael Tradition.

That the tradition lives in the minds of former Gael players — those who played under Bennett as well as those who didn’t — could be seen in the enthusiasm of NBA stars Dellavedova and Mills, who coached the opposing squads. I don’t think Delly could have smiled more or more obviously enjoyed himself if he were playing “footy” back in Maryborough.

Mills, who is by nature more reserved and regal in his bearing, was nevertheless equally invested in the day’s activities and just as accommodating as Delly to the throngs of young autograph and photo seekers.

Bennett himself was everywhere and, at the same time, nowhere. He was constantly in motion, greeting his former players and enjoying himself immensely, yet was hands off in the process of the festivities. That is the Bennett Way — to create something for his players to carry on.

Fans were numerous and enthusiastic. The lower sections of McKeon were filled on both sides of the court, and although I’m not sure what that means in terms of hard numbers, I would estimate a turnout of around 2,000.

About the game

After the warm-up contest between two teams of Not Ready for Prime Time contestants — the slightly older and less fit Gaels such as Kamran Sufi, Tyler Herr, Eric Schraeder, Eric Knapp, Todd Golden and Tim Williams — the main event tipped off. My initial take on the lineups in the main event was that the Blue Team under Delly would have the advantage because of  its numerous three-point shooters including Clint Steindl, Stephen Holt, Mickey McConnell and, yes, Omar.

But it was the White squad, led by the gritty inside play of Beau Levesque and Diamon Simpson and abetted by the overall excellence of Rowland, who dominated early, leading 66-48 at halftime. Rowland was sensational, blazing down the court for layups or hitting the occasional three-pointer (two for two). His line for the day was 30 points on 13-16 shooting.

Rowland, who was Bennett’s first highly-prized point guard, and who combined with sensational shooter Paul Marigney to lead the Gaels to their first NCAA Tournament appearance under Bennett, has had a long and successful international career. He has played in nine countries, from Latvia to Australia, and won league championships, scoring titles and MVP awards. In 2009 he was the lone non-citizen to make the Bulgarian National Team playing in the biennial European championship (Eurobasket), leading the team in minutes played and scoring 17.7 PPG.

Behind hot shooting from Samhan and Steindl, the Blue team made a comeback in the latter portion of the second half after falling behind by 22 points. The Blues moved ahead 106-105 on a three-pointer by McConnell. Mills and Delly got to try out their coaching skills in the final minutes, giving fouls and setting up last-minute shots to try for the win. The White team, getting a boost from a driving layup by Joe Rahon, managed to hold on despite Delly’s maneuvering. Rahon looked fully recovered from the late-season knee injury that required surgery, and will play for the Golden State Warriors in the upcoming NBA Summer League in Las Vegas.

Here are the lineups for those who like to keep souvenirs. There were three puzzling no-shows, Daniel Kickert, Brad Waldow and Marigney. Kickert gave interviews about the game, but was not in attendance. Marigney was in the stands and looked fit, but did not play. Waldow was nowhere to be seen and nothing was announced concerning his whereabouts.

White Team (117)

Rowland (30 pts); Levesque (29 pts); Simpson (25 pts); Dane Pineau (9 pts); Rahon (9 pts); Kyle Rowley (6 pts); Brett Collins (9 pts).

Blue Team (113)

Samhan (25 pts); McConnell (22 pts); Mitch Young (22 pts); Steindl (19 pts); Rob Jones (13 pts); Holt (12 pts).

It’s a sight many Gael fans envision for sometime in the future — Delly roving the sidelines as a Gael coach. He was defeated by his countryman and fellow Gael great Patty Mills on Sunday, but the image of Delly on the Saint Mary’s sideline will resonate with Gael fans in the years ahead. Photo courtesy of Tod Fierner.


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