Gauchos getting a jump start

Taran Brown (Photo courtesy of the University of Toronto)
Taran Brown (Photo courtesy of the University of Toronto)

By Mark Patton, Santa Barbara News-Press Senior Writer

August 23, 2012 6:26 AM

Bob Williams spent his summers a little differently during the late '80s.

He was the coach on the run when he ran Menlo College basketball, even when summer in Atherton would reach the high 80s.

"I'd make my players go on runs with me," Williams recalled. "I'd make them run stadiums with me, too.

"If I tried that now, they'd all fall asleep at the top, waiting for me to catch up."

And yet Williams, who just turned 59, is still the coach in a hurry.

When you've got nine freshmen on your roster, more than half of whom are expected to play major roles in November, August isn't too soon to get started.

And a new NCAA regulation allowing two hours of practice a week in August is letting him do just that.

"Let's get started!" he shouted as the Gauchos took the Thunderdome floor for a 40-minute session on Tuesday night. "We've got to get the pups out of here for dinner no later than 10 'til!"

A large litter of them were chomping at the bit. Redshirt freshman John Green, a 6-foot-5 guard considered to be the heir to Orlando Johnson's throne as a primary scoring option, had already been working on his mid-range game, banging down shot after shot.

"We had a pretty young team when we started Jacoby Atako, Nick Jones and Branduinn Fullove as freshmen," said Williams, recalling his UCSB team of 2000-01. "Mark Hull was a sophomore that year. Mike Vukovich was the starting center as a junior.

"We just have more young guys this year than we've ever had before. There's a lot of learning going on. We're extra-pleased with the young kids. They're athletic. I think we'll run better, be quicker laterally and defensively.

"We won't be as physically strong as last year's team, having lost Orlando and Jaime (Serna) and Nunn (James Nunnally). We'll be leaner, and we'll run more."

Johnson is now under contract with the NBA's Indiana Pacers. Serna has signed with a pro team in Spain and Nunnally got a deal in Greece. They combined for 44.7 points per game last season, more than 61 percent of UCSB's team total.

As transitions go, this is like asking Williams to take the onramp onto the 101 Freeway aboard a tricycle.

But this trike has some fast wheels, and none speedier than Taran Brown, another redshirt freshman. The 6-8 forward was voted in 2011 as Mr. Basketball in Wyoming - and although the state is no hotbed for basketball, he's already shown his coach that his spurts can be just as dramatic as Yellowstone's Old Faithful.

"I've never had anything quite like this," he said after Brown flew through the lane and dunked with his elbows at the rim. "A kid like Taran can make two or three of the most phenomenal plays you'll ever see, and then two or three of the silliest mistakes.

"I just have to have the patience to let him grow up."

One of the team's true freshmen, 6-2 point guard Dalante Dunklin of San Diego, lived up to his name last March after getting invited to the American Family Insurance High School Slam Dunk Contest in Chicago. He jumped over his mother while performing his dunk.

"He's got a little Derrick Allen in him," said Williams, referring to the point guard of his first UCSB team of '98-99. "He's a really tough kid."

Tough mom, too, apparently.

"We've got four guys competing for point guard," Williams added, including senior Nate Garth, sophomore T.J. Taylor and redshirt freshman Duke DaRe in the mix. "The emergence of that position is going to be a key for us."

Those four were treating Tuesday's workout as though it were the Final Four, calling out Williams' new plays and encouraging their teammates as though their basketball lives depended upon it.

The coach also plans to spread his wings with a deep backcourt, with Green being joined by other freshmen such as Michael Bryson of Sacramento and Aamahd Walker of Culver City. They join a crew that is led by junior Kyle Boswell, UCSB's leading 3-point shooter last season.

Williams is planning to use a deeper rotation of players, and to keep them rotating even while they're on the court.

"It's got to be automatic!" he shouted on Tuesday as he ran an offense that seemed in constant motion. "Eliminate all hesitation!"

"We hope to play fast in a variety of ways," he said later. "Fast means how quickly the ball moves, how hard you cut ..."

Even big Al Williams, UCSB's leading rebounder last year at 6.5 per game, was moving quicker. He came into summer practice in better shape, with expectations of playing more than last year's 17.1 minutes per game now that Serna and 7-foot-3 Greg Somogyi are pros.

Two freshmen, 6-8 Mitch Brewe of Seattle and 6-10 Sam Beeler of Poway, are battling to become his backup.

"The young kids have both looked good," Williams said. "Brewe is a nice, physical kid — big and strong — so he brings a lot to the table."
He takes a lot away from it, too, at 240 pounds.

Junior Keegan Hornbuckle, who originally transferred in from Colorado, and sophomore Lewis Thomas are veritable veterans at power forward after one season apiece in the program.

And so the coach-in-a-hurry knows that he needs to slow himself down a bit this season.

"It's going to be a challenge for me, to allow the young players to make mistakes and just play through it," Williams said. "I have to be demanding, but I need to find a way to balance that with some patience."

And so he may just start doing stadiums with his players again, and put that running shoe back on the other foot.

Mark Patton's column appears on Thursdays and Saturdays. Email:

Note: 2012-13 season tickets for UCSB men's and women's basketball are now available and there are several exciting and cost-saving plans available.  For more information drop by the Ticket Office in the Intercollegiate Athletics Building on campus, call 805-893-UCSB (8272) or click here.