The St Mary’s Gaels have grown into one of the most powerful mid-major programs in college basketball thanks to their Australian pipeline of basketball players which has included Adam Capron, Daniel Kickert, Patty Mills and Matthew Dellavedova but before any Aussie had stepped into the gym in Moraga, California the University of New Mexico had already uncovered the incredible basketball talent that Australia has produced.
Australia’s most successful basketball player is Luc Longley, he is a three time NBA champion, has played in three Olympics and is a member of the Basketball Australia Hall of Fame. In 1987 he arrived in in Albuquerque, New Mexico a fresh faced 18 year old and under the tutelage of coach Gary Colsen developed his game enough to become the No.7 pick in the 1991 NBA Draft.
After his senior season in which he averaged 19.1 points, 9.2 rebounds and 3.6 assists he left the schools its all-time leader in Points and Rebounds.
In the same way Adam Caporn opened the floodgates for Aussies at the University of St Mary’s, Luc Longley’s presence opened the eyes of coaches at New Mexico and since tapping into the hotbed of Australian basketball that is the Australian Institute of Sport (AIS), a steady flow of Australian’s have been a part of Lobo’s rosters over the years.
Former Adelaide 36ers guard Ryan Kersten played for the Lobos for a single season in 2005 and over the past few years Tasmanian point guard Hugh Greenwood and Queensland centre Cameron Bairstow have been responsible for much of the success of the Lobo’s program.
Greenwood who is now in his sophomore year starts for the Lobos and is averaging 7.3 points, 5.3 boards and 2.4 assists per game. Bairstow, a junior this season, currently shares time with New Mexico native Alex Kirk at the pivot and is averaging 9.1 points, 5.5 boards and a little less than one assist a game for Coach Steve Alford’s squad.
It is clear with a strong history of Australian’s in Lobo uniforms and two young tyros in Hugh Greenwood and Cameron Bairstow leading the charge that Aussie’s will continue to be a part of New Mexico’s recruiting plans.
Combine this with the fact it has been reported that the University of St Mary’s has been found guilty of breaking some big-time rules as a result of coaching violations that the NCAA perhaps the floodgates may be opened further between New Mexico and the AIS.
The NCAA put Saint Mary’s on four years of probation Friday for a “failure to monitor its men’s basketball program,” reducing scholarships and placing other penalties on the team after the governing body said the tiny Catholic college committed several recruiting violations. Gaels coach Randy Bennett who “failed to promote an atmosphere for compliance” will not be allowed to recruit off campus and will be suspended for the first five West Coast Conference games next season.
St Mary’s rise has been a direct result of the steady flow of Aussie talent which was not the reason for any of St Mary’s violations (the major violations handed down by the NCAA involved the recruitment of French players by a former assistant). With substantial penalties possibly stemming the chance for success in Moraga it’s quite possible New Mexico’s basketball program could benefit as a direct result.
For now Hugh Greenwood and Cameron Bairstow are focused on winning the Reese’s Mountain West Tournament this month and a strong NCAA tournament run. But as the first college basketball program that really discovered the huge opportunity that Australia basketball players can offer NCAA programs New Mexico needs to be recognised for its part in Australian Basketball lore.