February 25, 2011

Seniors Focused for Their Last Game in Leavey

By Carolyn Linck, '11

The four seniors of the Santa Clara University men's basketball team have each taken a different road to get to where they are now: Bronco Senior Night vs. Pepperdine on Sat., Feb. 26 at 7pm.  Together Ben Dowdell, Troy Payne, Michael Santos and Nate Mensah make up the senior class, and though they are proud of what they have accomplished so far as Broncos, they all believe the best is yet to come.

In 2007 Dowdell became the first Australian player to sign with SCU after he was recruited out of the Australian Institute of Sports (AIS).  He started in 20 games as a freshman and has been a difference maker for the Broncos ever since, providing the team with energy, leadership and defense. 

Santos and Mensah both walked onto the team as freshmen in 2007.   Through hard work they each were able to earn their spots, and in 2008 Santos was awarded a scholarship for his final three seasons. 

Finally, Payne joined the Broncos in 2009 after transferring from Citrus College in Los Angeles. 

"We've been up and down this year," said Payne.  "But we know the potential we have as a team and we are all ready to kick it up another notch for what's coming up in March."

Mensah agrees with Payne, saying, "Obviously we would have liked to win every game, but we've been improving throughout the season which is really important.  The great thing about athletics is that we have our setbacks and letdowns but we can fight through these things and learn from our mistakes.  This allows us to move forward and translate our experience into success."

Indeed, all the seniors recognize the development the basketball program has undergone in their time at SCU.

"Since my freshman year we've tried to establish a culture of winning," explained Santos.  "Our goal is to make it to the NCAA Tournament on a yearly basis.  I think the foundation has been started and I feel fortunate to have had a part in that."

The Broncos are hoping to realize this goal and are currently in the midst of their most successful season under Head Coach Kerry Keating. The leadership of Dowdell, Payne, Santos and Mensah is a large reason why.

"Not having any seniors last year was tough," said Mensah, who has already been accepted to Santa Clara and American University Law Schools.  "In the past we lost a lot of close games due to immaturity.  This year we've been able to win those close games because we can rely on the seniors who have been there before."

Santos, who made what Keating called a "huge basket" in the double overtime victory over LMU, agrees that senior leadership has been a key to the Broncos success in 2010-11: "Having four seniors this year, you can see a drastic difference in the attitude and unity of our team, which has contributed to us having a better season.  We know the system and have been through multiple seasons, and this helps us keep things in perspective.  We are able to lead by example and give advice to the younger players."

Payne, a WCC Defensive Player of the Year candidate who leads the WCC in steals, said setting the right example for their teammates and leading vocally is extremely important for the seniors.

"More responsibility falls on our shoulders," said Payne.  "We have to be on guys, reminding them to bring it everyday and make sure we are leading by example too by never slacking off."

Dowdell agrees that with senior leadership comes responsibility. Dowdell is having his best season with a career high 8 ppg and 4.7 rpg.

"As a senior I'm more responsible for the team's performance and making sure we're consistent and playing well," said Dowdell.  "This means I've had to be more focused than ever before."

Getting ready to play their last game in the Leavey Center the Bronco seniors are definitely focused and motivated.

"I love playing college basketball, especially in the Leavey Center," said Payne.  "The support of the Ruff Riders is amazing.  All season I've had the mindset that I'm going to leave everything I have on the court because I know this is my last season, and that will definitely be true on Saturday as well."

Dowdell agrees, saying, "It's going to be tough to say bye to all the fans who have been here for four years, but we're definitely looking forward to getting a victory and hopefully securing the fourth seed in the WCC ."

March 4-7 the Broncos will be in Las Vegas to play in the WCC Tournament, where they hope to earn a bid to the NCAA Tournament.

"That's the one thing we all really want to accomplish before we leave Santa Clara," said Payne.  "We want to make it to the NCAA Tourney and get Santa Clara back on the national radar as a program."

In addition to helping the program grow to where it is today, all the seniors feel they have come a long way individually as people and players thanks to Santa Clara basketball.

"I've grown a lot in my time at Santa Clara," said Santos.  "With basketball I have learned the benefits of hard work and the importance of dedication and persistence.  Off the court I think I have become more independent and learned that you have to take advantage of the opportunity when it presents itself because it may never come around again."

The last opportunity to see Dowdell, Payne, Santos and Mensah play in the Leavey Center is Sat., Feb. 26 at 7pm versus Pepperdine. Be there!