BYU basketball: It's Utah County vs. Australia, almost, when Cougars, Gaels collide
Provo • Wednesday night's ultra-important West Coast Conference college basketball game at the Marriott Center will pit Brigham Young University against Saint Mary's College of Moraga, Calif.
It also could be billed as Utah County against the world Australia, in particular.
That's ironic, really, because BYU is a large university with more than 34,000 students from all over the globe, while Saint Mary's is a small, Catholic college with an enrollment of fewer than 5,000.
But look at the rosters of these so-called mid-majors that have done quite well on the national college basketball scene the past half-dozen years: BYU has eight players who grew up within a 20-mile radius of the school, including six who have started at least one game this season, while SMC has six players from foreign countries, including superstar point guard Matthew Dellavedova, one of four Australians on the team.
"Yeah, that is different, but you can't really think about that kind of stuff," said BYU's Tyler Haws. "You just have to come out and play as hard as you can, and play together with your guys, and make the best of whatever you've got."
But to accuse BYU coach Dave Rose of being too provincial in his recruiting efforts would be shortsighted; he's got a player from Argentina (Agustin Ambrosino) on his roster, and probably broke the bank OK, that's impossible at BYU trying to lure Chicago prep star Jabari Parker to Provo.
Whatever the case, one would be hard-pressed to find a Division I program in the country with more players from the county it is in than BYU, especially a program that has won 25 or more games for five straight years.
"When I first came to BYU with coach [Steve] Cleveland, we made a real effort to try and recruit the state," Rose said, noting that he knew Utah produced some decent talent from his days as head coach at Dixie College in St. George. "But we have been real fortunate. There are some real talented players that have come through, and we've benefitted from that."
Tipoff is at 9 p.m. , and the game will be televised nationally on ESPNU as the Gaels (3-0, 14-3) try to win in Provo for the second straight year. It is still early, but many experts are saying that an NCAA Tournament berth could be at stake. Both clubs are on the bubble, although BYU's RPI, 31, is better, and its nonconference schedule a bit stronger.
Three Utah County products Provo's Brandon Davies, Highland's Josh Sharp and Alpine's Tyler Haws are expected to start for the Cougars (4-0, 14-4), while Alpine's Nate Austin and Orem's Craig Cusick will see a lot of minutes. Provo's Bronson Kaufusi, Orem's Ian Harward and Raul Delgado, the transfer from Western Nebraska Community College who was born in Mexico but played high school basketball at nearby Springville, could see playing time, depending on matchups.
"I think it is really cool," said Sharp. "We all have that connection with each other, having played with and against each other so much growing up. But I definitely think it is abnormal, so many guys from the same area on the same college team."
It is almost as different as Saint Mary's approach. Coach Randy Bennett, a Canadian, arrived at SMC in 2001 and has turned a program that went 2-27 the previous season into an annual WCC contender by scouring the globe for talent, starting in Australia. Like Dellavedova, the mouthpiece-wearing bruiser affectionately known as "Delly" in Moraga, Jorden Page, Mitchell Young and Matt Hodgson are Aussies, along with former SMC great Patty Mills, now with the San Antonio Spurs.
"The success we've had with kids from Australia has helped us," Bennett told Dan Murphy for an article on the school's website. "It has directly had an effect on us being able to get more good players from Australia."
Bennett has said the school's international recruiting will continue, although ESPN reported last September that Saint Mary's is being investigated by the NCAA for potential recruiting violations. A Saint Mary's assistant who helped recruit Mills and other Australians to the school, David Patrick, abruptly left the program in 2010.
Bennett has declined to publicly comment on the investigation.
As for BYU, the trend of having a Utah County-centric roster won't subside in the near future. Alpine's Eric Mika and Nick Emery signed last November, although Emery will leave on an LDS Church mission in May. And a couple of high school juniors from Utah County, Alpine's T.J. Haws and Orem's Dalton Nixon, have already committed to BYU.
"A lot of talented players have come out of this area lately," Sharp said. "We are just happy to represent the state and Utah County, because basketball is such a big deal here."
And it is in Australia, too, apparently.
Twitter: @drewjay Fishing in different pools
Foreign Players at St. Mary's
Jorden Page Maroochydore, Queensland, Australia
Mitchell Young Logan, Queensland, Australia
Matthew Dellavedova Maryborough, Victoria, Australia
Eividas Petrulis Vilnius, Lithuania
Matt Hodgson Booval, Queensland, Australia
Kyle Rowley Arima, Trinidad
Utah County Players at BYU
Nate Austin Alpine, Utah
Craig Cusick Orem, Utah
Brandon Davies Provo, Utah
*Raul Delgado Springville, Utah
Ian Harward Orem, Utah
Tyler Haws Alpine, Utah
Bronson Kaufusi Provo, Utah
Josh Sharp Highland, Utah
* Delgado was born in Chihuahua, Mexico, but played high school basketball at Springville High
Saint Mary's at BYU
O At the Marriott Center, Provo
Tipoff • 9 p.m.
TV • ESPNU; Radio • 1160 AM, 102.7 FM
Records • BYU 14-4, 4-0 WCC; St. Mary's 14-3, 3-0 WCC
Series history • BYU leads, 8-4
Last meeting • St. Mary's 80, BYU 66 (Jan. 28, 2012)
About the Gaels • They are coming off a 78-72 win over San Francisco, their 15th straight win over USF. ... Beau Levesque has scored in double figures nine times in the last 10 games. ... They have outrebounded their opponents in 12 straight games. ... Matthew Dellavedova, Stephen Holt, Levesque and Mitchell Young all scored in double digits in the win over USF.
About the Cougars • Coach Dave Rose can record his 200th career win with a victory against the Gaels. ... Tyler Haws, the WCC Player of the Week, scored 24 points in each of his last two games and has scored 20 or points in 12 games this season. ... Anson Winder had a career-high 10 points off the bench in Saturday's 82-64 win over Santa Clara.
Saint Mary'sat BYU
O Wednesday, 9 p.m.
TV • ESPNU