Left Coast representin’ during the Big Dance.
What a weekend. Wait, scratch that, what a four days worth of basketball.
For those living underneath a rock or completely oblivious to the world around them, we’re talking about the first couple rounds of the NCAA Tournament. Then again, anyone reading this blog is well aware of all the action that’s taken place during the Big Dance.
What some might not be aware of is the fact that the West Coast has been well represented thus far. Believe it or not, several individuals from out this way ended up playing key roles for their respective teams during the rather remarkable opening weekend that was.
Now is a good time take a look at some of the cats with connections on this side of the country. While others sit and watch from the comforts of their own living rooms, these guys are still alive, out on the court, presumably making more March Madness memories.
Some of these names will be familiar. Others not so much.
Regardless, keep an eye out for these players moving forward.
They’ll be hard to miss once the Sweet 16 games begin Thursday. And remember, don’t forget, they all started playing ball out here on the West Coast.
Kyle Singler | 6-8 | F | Junior | Duke
The Blue Devils received the top seed in the South Region and Singler & Co. have made the tournament selection committee look good so far. An impressive win against Arkansas-Pine Bluff was a given. But the ease in which Duke defeated Cal, a 68-53 victory, might have surprised some people. It shouldn’t have, not with Singler around. Coming out of high school, the Oregon native was one of the nation’s top 5 prospects. And he’s done little to disappoint since arriving on the Durham campus.
Jon Jaques | 6-7 | F | Senior | Cornell
Had trouble cracking the starting lineup in his first three years. The Los Angeles product paid his dues though. Now, he’s one of three captains for a Big Red team that must be considered the Cinderella story of the tournament. Jaques isn’t shy about jacking up bombs from way downtown. He did, after all, lead the Ivy League in three-point shooting at 48 percent. Make no mistake, his jumper better be on point if 12th seeded Cornell is going to keep the score somewhat close against top-seeded Kentucky.
Fred Ellis | 6-6 | F | Sophomore | Baylor
Hails from the capital of California, Sacramento. Arnold Schwarzenegger calls the city home these days, although our guess is The Governator is completely clueless as to Ellis’ whereabouts. He was recruited by several Pac-10 Conference programs, but ultimately, committed to the Bears instead of staying close to home. In retrospect, the decision worked out well despite the fact that playing time has been hard to come by. Nevertheless, Ellis is one win away from making an appearance in the Elite Eight.
Renaldo Woolridge | 6-8 | F | Sophomore | Tennessee
Like father, like son. At least that’s the plan. Woolridge’s dad, Orlando, who enjoyed a 13-year stint in the NBA, made a run to the Final Four with Notre Dame in 1978. The younger Woolridge is hoping to duplicate the feat with the Vols. So far, so good for the Southern California product. Tennessee has had things relatively easy in the first two rounds of the Midwest Region, producing a pair of victories over double-digit seeds. Up next, a true test against Evan Turner and second-seeded Ohio State.
Melvin Goins | 5-11 | G | Junior | Tennessee
When the going gets tough, the tough get Goins. Such has been the case for the Vols, who have turned to their back-up point guard when they’ve needed a spark off the bench. More often than not, he’s delivered. For example: Goins scored a career-high 15 points, including four three-pointers, in a three-point win over his hometown school, San Diego State, in a first-round game of the tournament. With production like that, Tennessee has the potential to pull off another victory, perhaps two.
Omar Samhan | 6-11 | C | Senior | St. Mary’s
We told you about this baller from the Bay, the San Francisco area. He was introduced back in late January after punishing Pepperdine in a West Coast Conference game. For those who missed things the first time around, here’s the link. Fast forward, nearly two months later, here we are talking about Samhan again. Dude’s been an absolute beast down on the low block for the Gaels. No one’s been able to stop him. His averages, 30 points and nearly 10 rebounds per game, are a clear indication of that. Samhan might have entered March Madness without much fanfare, but he won’t be leaving as an unknown. You can take that to the bank.
Mickey McConnell | 6-0 | G | Junior | St. Mary’s
With opponents focused on slowing down Samhan, someone’s had to keep opponents honest out on the perimeter. And that someone’s been McConnell, an assassin from Arizona who‘s been lights out from long range this season. No joke, he’s shooting 51 percent from the field, 52 percent from beyond the arc. Those numbers are seriously ridiculous. If you cheat against him, McConnell puts the ball on the floor and either gets to the hoop for a layup, or steps to the line, where‘s knocking them down at an 84 percent clip.
Isaiah Thomas | 5-9 | G | Sophomore | Washington
He may be slight in stature, but that hasn’t stopped Thomas from playing much bigger than his listed height. It all started when he took home the MVP Award at the Pac-10 Conference Tournament after guiding the Huskies to a title and an automatic berth to March Madness. Little has changed. The pint-sized point guard has been running the show with reckless abandon ever since, averaging more than 17 points and 7 assists per game for Washington, his dream school growing up in nearby Tacoma.
Quincy Pondexter | 6-6 | F | Senior | Washington
Before this whole business of the Big Dance even began, several so-called experts believed that Pondexter had the potential to make an impact at the next level. Playing in the League has always been a goal of the California native. Truth be told, he’s done little to damage his reputation. His stock is sky high. Not many people are giving the 11th seeded Huskies much of a chance against second-seeded West Virginia. But with Pondexter, you can’t count out upset-minded Washington.
Justin Holiday | 6-6 | F | Junior | Washington
Used to dominate the Southern California hoops scene alongside his younger brother, Jrue Holiday, who’s currently playing in the NBA. Unfortunately, the older sibling found things more difficult at the Division I level, at least initially. A recent promotion to the starting lineup has done wonders for Holiday. The Huskies feed of his energy. He’s one of those versatile types that does a little bit of everything, most of it well. Both Holidays are doing their old Campbell Hall High coaches, Terry Kelly and Paul Tait, proud.
There it is, a comprehensive list of some West Coast cats to keep an eye on, for those who actually care. Our guess is that one or two of the aforementioned players, along with their teams, will end up surviving Sweet 16 play.
Beyond that, who knows.
One thing certain: Saturday and Sunday is reserved for all of the Elite Eight action, the Regional Finals. That said, it will be interesting to see if anyone from this group makes the cut and advances to the Final Four. Details to follow.