Jan. 21, 2003
By Brian Betz
The Santa Clara
In the 51-year history of West Coast Conference men's basketball play, only five Santa Clara Broncos have ever been named Freshman of the Year. This season, Brandon Rohe is on pace to be the sixth.
Rohe has been instrumental in scoring points off the bench for an injury-plagued Bronco squad, and he leads all WCC freshmen in scoring. His 13.1 points per game also rank him tenth among all players in the conference.
"We didn't expect that he would lead the team in scoring at this point," said Associate Head Coach Steve Seandel. "But when we first signed him we were aware that he had the shooting ability to be a primary scorer for us."
After Rohe dropped in 20 points this past Saturday against the Toreros, San Diego Head Coach Brad Holland said, "If you didn't know anything, you wouldn't think Rohe was a freshman. He's fearless, has good poise and plays like a seasoned veteran."
With last season's junior All-WCC guard Kyle Bailey out the remainder of the year due to back injuries, Rohe will be looked at to compensate for Bailey's point production and essential court leadership.
"His ability to shoot is the most impressive part of his game," said Bailey. "He has become more aggressive offensively when the team needs it."
Despite being viewed as a primary scorer by his coaches and teammates, he does not feel more of a responsibility to score even though this 10-4 team is now without its second leading scorer.
"I don't ever feel as though I need to score for us to win," said Rohe. "Losing Kyle for the year hurts, but it just means that we'll have to play better as a team now that he is out."
A big reason why Rohe has been able to score on the collegiate level lies in the vast playing experience he received growing up. He attended Santa Margarita Catholic High School in San Juan Capistrano, where he started all four years and received both All-Orange County and All-Serra League honors. More importantly, Rohe participated at Adidas' ABCD camp, where the nation's elite prep stars are invited to compete against one another. It was there that he played against LeBron James, a current phenom from Akron, Ohio, who is projected to be the first pick in next year's NBA draft.
"It was a huge opportunity to play at ABCD because it taught me how to relax in game situations where I know I'll match up against tough opponents," said Rohe. "Already having that experience makes the move to the collegiate level feel like less of an eyeopener."
Added Santa Clara Head Coach Dick Davey, "ABCD definitely aided in making the jump to the collegiate level much easier than it is for a lot of other freshmen."
Aside from being experienced beyond his years, Rohe's drive and work ethic separate him from most other freshmen. He has a love for the game that keeps him on the court long after practice has finished.
"Brandon's passion is evident," said Seandel. "He's almost got a little bit of Steve Nash in him in that he hits the gym late at night and stays long after practice to perfect his jump shot and other parts of his game."
Added Davey, "Guys who spend extra time on the court after practice benefit the greatest from it, and Brandon is a great example of that."
Like a true big-time player who wants the ball in his hands, Rohe leads the team in field goal attempts (119) and free throws made (43). Each of those statistics is 20 more than any other Bronco player this season.
"The best thing about him is that unlike some guys who miss a shot and put their head down, he doesn't," said Seandel.
His success at shooting guard has overshadowed another freshman recruit and longtime friend Travis Niesen. Niesen was also an All-Orange County selection who played with Rohe on the same Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) team throughout junior high. The two parted ways to different high schools in the same area and are now teammates once again.
"When going through the recruiting process, it was simply chance that we both decided to come to Santa Clara," said Niesen. "Although it was unplanned, I feel it couldn't have worked out any better. We push each other and our starting five during practice every day, which has helped everyone ultimately improve their game."
The level of competitiveness and talent within this team, which only loses two players after the season, is a substantial reason why Rohe and Niesen find themselves as reserves.
"Statistically Brandon should be a starter," said Seandel. "But right now we like his punch off the bench."
Although that is currently the case, it should not be long before Rohe finds himself in the starting lineup. Right now whispers of the name Steve Nash sound premature, but that might one day change should he continue to polish his game much like the current Dallas Mavericks guard did when he starred for Santa Clara during the mid-'90s.
"The potential and talent are there," said sophomore guard Ethan Rohde. "If he continues working hard and putting in extra time, the sky is the limit. With his ability and confidence he can go as far as he wants."
And as far as he wants might one day land him in the NBA.