The UCSB men’s basketball team finished this past season with an impressive second-place finish in the Big West Conference and the reigning conference Player of the Year in rising junior center Alan Williams. Three newcomers will join the Gauchos next season in the team’s quest to capture the Big West title after a disappointing result in the conference tournament this season.
The eldest of the three newcomers is DaJuan Smith, a 6’3” combo guard who will enter UCSB as a junior transfer from Mt. San Jacinto College.
“He’s really good off the bounce, he’s a very aggressive and physical kid, a very good defender and a good decision maker,” Head Coach Bob Williams said. “I like those qualities to add as a kid that can play both the one and the two.”
Originally from Louisiana, Smith came westward to California for junior college. Last season at Mt. San Jacinto, Smith led his team to the quarterfinals of the California Community College State Tournament while averaging 14 points and 5.8 rebounds per game.
“My staff had watched him play and we just decided that we wanted to add a little bit more depth at the guard position,” Coach Williams said. “I’m very excited to add more physical, quick, aggressive, pressure type defenders to a team that I do believe is going to have the ability to be very good defensively.”
Also adding to the team’s depth at guard is 6’2” combo guard Gabe Vincent out of Stockton, CA. Vincent attended St. Mary’s High School and played at the highest level of AAU basketball in the state for the Oakland Soldiers.
“He’s a very well-rounded complete guard that doesn’t really have a weakness, particularly out of high school,” Coach Williams said. “He does everything well. He’s a very good defender, very good rebounder, very good shooter and passer. He really has an extremely well balanced game.”
Vincent is expected to contribute right away as a shooting guard, but has the skill set to play both the point guard and shooting guard positions.
“Vincent and Smith will play right away. They’re both very ready physically to contribute. They’re strong, they’re tough, they defend,” Coach Williams said. “They’re not going to be intimidated, neither one of them, and they’re both going to be really good additions.”
Rounding out the recruiting class is Justin Burks, a 6’6” forward out of Nevada. Burks attended Las Vegas’ Arbor View High School and also played at the highest level of AAU basketball for the Las Vegas Prospects.
“He adds to the John Green-Michael Bryson type category. He’s versatile, longer, taller,” Coach Williams said. “He’s going to have to get a lot more physical and stronger but his upside is very good.”
While Burks figures to need more time to adjust to the college game in comparison to Vincent and Smith, he adds versatility and the ability to play and defend the two, three and four positions on the floor.
“He has a really good mid-range game, and he’s really good off the dribble getting into the paint,” Coach Williams said. “He’s pretty active chasing rebounds. Those things add a lot to us.”
The three newcomers join a talented and veteran group of players headlined by Williams. Big Al led the Big West in points and rebounds per game, while ranking 12th in the nation in scoring and second nationally in rebounding.
“Most everybody that’s coming here is excited playing with a guy of Al’s caliber,” Coach Williams said. We think it’s a great thing that we’re adding the pieces to play around a great player.”
Rising junior guard Michael Bryson played second fiddle to Big Al last season, finishing second on the team in scoring while garnering Big West Honorable Mention. Bryson figures to start at either the shooting guard or small forward position next season.
Point guard play looks to be a source of strength for the Gauchos next season, thanks in large part to rising senior Zalmico Harmon. Harmon finished last season with the second best assist-to-turnover ratio in the entire nation and finished the year with Big West Honorable Mention accolades.
“We’re hopeful that Z makes as big as a jump between his junior and senior year as he did during his junior year,” Coach Williams said. “We thought he got way better as the year went on. We feel like he has a whole other level he can go to as his comfort zone in the program rises.”
Also playing point will be sophomore Eric Childress and junior T.J. Taylor. Childress finished his freshman year with spectacular consistency towards the end of the season, while Taylor is a two-year starter who missed last season with a hip injury.
Smith will certainly compete for point guard playing time with the trio and Vincent could even work his way into the conversation by the end of the season.
“It’s not so much that [Smith] would play that position over them, he’d play with them, which allows you to have two point guards on the floor like I did with Eric and Z,” Coach Williams said. “Now we’ll have five guys in the program that are very good with the ball and very good off the bounce.”
The rest of UCSB’s rotation will consist of rising junior forwards in Mitch Brewe and Sam Beeler, redshirt freshman forward Alex Hart and junior guard John Green. Brewe started much of the year at power forward for the Gauchos last season while Beeler provided solid backup minutes at both the four and five spots.
Hart redshirted last season but brings a versatile ability to shoot the ball from outside in addition to his 6’10” frame. Green has lost most of his career to injury but has the potential to add another deadly scorer and physical presence to UCSB if he can stay healthy.
A version of this article appeared on page 10 of May 20, 2014’s print edition of the Daily Nexus.
Photo by Peter Vandenbelt of the Daily Nexus.