Written by the Voice of the Bronco Men's Basketball Team, Anthony Passarelli
It's hard not to admire the Swiss Army knife. The multi-purpose tool used by the Swiss Army in the early 20th century and celebrated for the many attachments stowed inside the handle. Open a can soup? Gotcha covered. Cut a nylon camping rope? Bingo. It can do a little bit of everything and it's hard to argue against its' value. It's a little like Santa Clara's junior guard Michael Santos and not something lost on Bronco head coach Kerry Keating.
"He's become a consummate team player and played a lot of positions for us." Said Keating. " We count on him to be mistake free and have the knowledge 1 through 4 of what to do on the offensive end but he has also developed the ability to know our defensive rotations as well."
Santos didn't take the standard path to playing Division I basketball. Born in Santa Rosa, he grew up in the small Sonoma County town of Occidental with a population of approximately 2,000. It was a 30-minute ride to Cardinal Newman High School everyday and despite a solid all-league first team senior season (16pts, 7reb and 6 assists per game) Santos said he didn't receive much attention from colleges, "I sent out game films but I wasn't up to date on the whole recruiting process so I didn't get a whole lot of exposure," said Santos.
Luckily for the Broncos and Santos, whose parents both played basketball at USF, coach Keating spotted Santos and presented the opportunity to earn a place as a walk-on. So that's exactly what he did scoring six points in just 32 min his Freshman year (2007-'08) but he worked hard in practice, was a quick study of Keating's system and earned a scholarship going into his Sophomore year. And there he was in the starting lineup opening night, November 17, 2008 in the NIT Season tip-off against Alabama-Birmingham in Tucson, Ariz. He started the first 15 games of the season and played everything from point guard to power forward and when asked if he ever thought he would play center he laughed, "I wasn't too concerned. We had a pretty good player down there in Big John (Bryant) but if they needed me to I would have."
He completed the year averaging almost 20 mpg and played in all 33 games. He continued to work on his game in the offseason knowing he'd be one of the lone upperclassman and still wanted to improve on his skills.
"That was one big key to my game was increasing my range and being a threat outside." Santos said. "And taking on more responsibilities and score a little bit more from last year where we had big John underneath."
Though he started this season coming off the bench, the broken-foot suffered by sophomore guard Kevin Foster December 1st at Santa Barbara offered yet another chance to step into the starting lineup. Headed into Friday's opening round West Coast Conference matchup against San Diego in Las Vegas, Santos has started 17 straight games, is averaging 27 min, and though having a late season slump from 3-point range, has been one of the bronco's top 3-point shooters. And add to that doing his best, along with Junior Ben Dowdell, to tutor the first year players to the team.
"We're the old guys by default," a smiling Santos said. " It's our job now like those before us to help out the young guys on and off the court, help them adjust and make sure they're enjoying their time here."
That work won't end in Las Vegas. Heading into next year Keating will be asking Santos to improve even more and be ready to fill in the holes whether it be rebounding and knowing floor assignments to helping on the defensive end. Keating said Santos isn't the type of player who settles for where he is. "He did a great job last season to this season and we're looking forward to him being one of those seniors for us next season that will continue not making mistakes on or off the floor. He's been a model of what we ask of our guys to be a leader by example," added Keating.
Asked specifically about the tough season the Broncos have endured with injuries and close losses, Santos said he doesn't think it truly reflects how Santa Clara has improved throughout the year. Adding the team is building a strong foundation for next year and with everyone back healthy he's excited for 2010-11. And for Santos' personal philosophy, that hasn't changed.
"It has been a great experience. You always have to be ready and be prepared to play. Make sure you're prepared for that game that's coming up, know the scouting report and be ready to go," said Santos.
Next stop Las Vegas and this weekend's West Coast Conference tournament. One more opportunity for the Broncos and their Swiss Army knife.