WCC coaches chat up teams

Every coach had roughly eight-minute segments to talk about their teams and the upcoming WCC season. The general consensus is that Gonzaga is the team to beat, Portland is GU’s primary threat, teams at the top (other than an experienced Pilots squad) have a ton of new faces, and the bottom of the league is improving.

Below are some of the highlights.

LOYOLA MARYMOUNT: Last season the Lions were so short-handed because of injuries, etc., that coach Max Good, who took over as head coach during the season, was forced to rely on zone defense. “I hate playing zone,” Good said. Over the last six games, the Lions played man-to-man and won a couple of ball games.

LMU has no seniors, returns its top four scorers and adds a couple of transfers who sat out last year.

PEPPERDINE: Junior Mychel Thompson, brother of WSU’s Klay Thompson, was voted team captain. High-scoring guard Keion Bell (12.9 points) returns. Head coach Tom Asbury said the school needs to “start making a concerted effort” toward building a new arena.

Said Asbury: “Saint Mary’s and Gonzaga sustained more losses to graduation than anybody. Those two and obviously Portland, which didn’t lose anybody to graduation and was a really fine team last year, have to be considered the upper echelon.

“I still think the league is a little top heavy, but I could be proven wrong on that.”

SAN DIEGO: Senior Brandon Johnson, who tore his Achilles' last season, was granted a medical redshirt. His return at point guard gives USD direction that was missing last season.

“We really became a leaderless group on the floor,” coach Bill Grier said. “To have his spark and leadership on the floor … he has an infectious way about him around our players and it lifts their level of play.”

Grier has a roster filled with new faces, like several WCC teams.

“Anybody that goes through a situation where you have so many new faces, it takes time for them to grasp how hard have they to play at this level,” Grier said.

The Toreros open against Stanford at the Jenny Craig Pavilion.

Of the conference race, Grier said: “It’s probably a little more wide open than it's been the past couple years. Gonzaga, which is extremely talented, doesn’t have as much experience as they’ve had in the past, but they do have experience in the area that is most important -- the guard spot. Certainly on paper, Portland looks to be the greatest challenger to (Gonzaga).”

SANTA CLARA: John Bryant has graduated and is trying to hook on with an NBA D-League team. Talented guard Kevin Foster returns. The Broncos play 27 of 31 games in California, including 18 at home.

“It’s a very unique year in that there’s a lot of youth but very strong seniors on teams at the top,” said coach Kerry Keating, mentioning GU’s Matt Bouldin, San Diego’s Brandon Johnson, Portland’s five seniors, Saint Mary’s Omar Samhan and San Francisco’s Dior Lowhorn. “Probably 40 percent (of the players) are sophomores and freshmen.”

SAN FRANCISCO: Picked to finish in a tie for fourth with Santa Clara in the preseason poll. Lowhorn is the headliner, joined by seven newcomers, including five freshmen.

“Last year if Dior didn’t score I don’t know how we were gonna score,” head coach Rex Walters said.

Of the WCC,  Walters said: “This league is just tough, no nights off. The bottom half has gotten better with a year of recruiting and (new coaches) putting in their systems and philosophies.”

SAINT MARY’S: The Gaels lost Diamon Simpson to graduation and Patty Mills to the NBA.

“You’re not going to replace Patty and Diamon with one player. Hopefully the program is in good enough shape that the program replaces them,” coach Randy Bennett said. “We had some young guys sitting behind them.”

Saint Mary’s added seven freshmen to join five returners who have logged extensive minutes (sounds like GU’s roster). Samhan has dropped 10 more pounds.

“There were a lot times last year where I thought Omar was the most important player and I definitely feel that way this year,” Bennett said. “His improvement from freshman to now is impressive.”

The Gaels have five players from Australia's Institute of Sport (Mills would have made it six). The team went to Australia for a tour “and it definitely helped us,” Bennett said. “It gave the guys that have to step up greater responsibility and it gave them a chance to be in their new roles.”

Of the WCC, Bennett said, “I think the league is more balanced this year, mostly because the teams that were at the lower end of the conference are better. They’ve definitely improved talent wise, and just having a year to get their programs in place and their players to have a go-around this league one time, now they know what’s coming. I’m not saying the top will move down, but I think the bottom will move up.”

PORTLAND: Virtually the entire roster returns to a squad that placed third last season. The Pilots received two first-place votes in the preseason poll.

“We’re trying to take advantage of that (experience) and take the opportunity to get better, not just being a year older,” coach Eric Reveno said.

Reveno isn’t worried about high expectations with an experienced crew. “We’re a veteran team,” Reveno said. “We should have a stronger sense of self and the team and what makes us good, so expectations aren’t as disorienting.”

GONZAGA: The Bulldogs may lead the league in newcomers (10, including redshirt freshmen Grant Gibbs and Andy Poling). Matt Bouldin leads a small group of returners.

“He’s had a great career already,” head coach Mark Few said. “It’s arguably been our MVP maybe even the last two years. He’s definitely our most consistent player. We’re going to count on more of the same this year and he’s probably going to have to carry an even heavier load.”

GU’s returning strength is guards Bouldin, Steven Gray and Meech Goodson.

“Jud (Heathcote) always said the college game is about guards and I totally agree with that. Matt is obviously one of the best players in the country. Steven has potential to be an All-WCC guy, plus very good on the national level. Meech can hold his own defensively with his quickness and he’s shooting the ball much better.”

Of the newcomers, Few said Elias Harris is going to be a factor and Manny Arop has been impressive. 

“The big thing for me and the staff is to figure out and make sure we can get them a lot of minutes to maximize their careers,” Few said of the freshmen. “Sam (Dower) and Kelly (Olynyk) are going to be real good players for us before it’s all said and done. How many minutes that means this year, who knows? G.J. (Vilarino) looked very good last night.”

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Jim Meehan
Jim Meehan's coverage areas include Gonzaga University men's basketball, Spokane Shock football, golf and volleyball. He also contributes to the SportsLink Blog.

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