Saint Mary’s built with Aussie talent

PROVIDENCE, R.I. – This marriage between a mid-major program and Australia seems odd. But it works, which is why Saint Mary’s – including its five players from Down Under – is still alive in the NCAA Tournament.

No. 10-seeded Saint Mary’s will play No. 2 Villanova in a South Region second-round game on Saturday – but excuse the players if they still wanted to talk about their first-round victory over No. 7 Richmond. It was the school’s first NCAA tourney win since 1959.

Clint Steindl is one of three Australians in the Saint Mary's starting lineup
(Stew Milne / US Presswire)

“We hadn’t done this (win a tourney game) in 50 years, it was something we wanted to prove,” said Saint Mary’s center Ben Allen, one of the key Australians. “We are a team that’s done so many things this season, and add that to the stack. So, we’re advancing in the dance.”

Allen, a 6-11 senior from Melbourne who began his career at Indiana, is one of three Aussies who start for Saint Mary’s. He’s joined by guard Matthew Dellavedova (Victoria) and forward Clint Steindl (Queensland). Guard Jorden Page and forward Mitchell Young, both from Queensland, come off the bench.

Saint Mary’s coach Randy Bennett began the pipeline to Australia when he took over as a head coach in 2001. The first player he got from Down Under was Adam Caporn. Bennett next tabbed Daniel Kickert, who went on to become the Gaels’ all-time leading scorer. Bennett then grabbed two Aussie natives who were transfers from Montana. But the big get was Patrick Mills, a star who helped the Saint Mary’s make the 2008 NCAA tourney.

“Mills kind of opened up the flood gates as far as that goes because he’s such a big-name guy all the kids look up to,” said Bennett. “If it was good enough for Pat … I guess the rest of them thought it was good enough for them.

“I think good news travels fast, and I think the first kid who came over here (Caporn) had a great experience. I think he took the news back to the kids at the (Australian) Institute of Sport. I think we had a good rep over there and the basketball community is not that big.”

While the Australians are key, it’s an American who is the Gaels’ best player: Omar Samhan. He led the way in the win over Richmond with 29 points and 12 rebounds. Samhan ranks second in school annals in scoring (1,799 points) and rebounds (1,088) and is No. 1 in blocks (254).

“We take pride in being a blue-collar team, playing hard,” Samhan said. “And I think that’s underrated so much today in college basketball and the NBA.”

No one is underrating Saint Mary’s now, thanks to that work ethic – and its Australian flavor.

Tom Dienhart is the senior national college football writer for Rivals.com. Follow him on Twitter. He can be reached at dienhart@yahoo-inc.com.
Updated Friday, Mar 19, 2010