Holy professional athletes, Batman!
While UCSB is not typically identified as an athletic powerhouse, former Gaucho standouts are changing that opinion in professional sports.
“I think that [having UCSB alumni in professional sports] helps in terms of recruiting because it allows people to realize that if you go here, you still have the chance to compete on professional level,” Assistant Athletics Director of Media Relations Bill Mahoney said. “You don’t have to go to UCLA, USC, any school in the Pac-10 or wherever to find competitive play.
“Professional athletes give our program historical depth,” Mahoney said. “When Michael Young [of the Texas Rangers] was named the MVP of this year’s All-Star Game, UCSB was mentioned on national television several times and it helps our athletic program as well as the university.”
Other Gauchos to join Young in the Major League include Oakland Athletics’ Barry Zito, Colorado Rockies’ Ryan Spilborghs, Milwaukee Brewers’ Justin Lehr and Mark Leonard of the San Francisco Giants.
During the 2006 MLB draft this June, Chris Valaika was selected in the third round by the St. Louis Cardinals – the highest round in recent memory for a UCSB player.
Both the men’s and women’s basketball teams can boast multiple connections to professional ball. The Lakers’ Assistant Coach Brian Shaw, former Laker Don Ford and former guard for the Rockets and Celtics Conner Henry all hold degrees from UCSB.
Women who played for UCSB Head Coach Mark French in the past five years have also graced the WNBA with their presence.
Gaucho greats from UCSB’s most successful program can also certainly be found in the pros. The first Gaucho to sign a professional contract with a Major League Soccer Team, Thiago Martins was picked up by DC United in 2003 and by the Colorado Rapids in 2006. During the United Soccer Leagues’ 2005 draft, Nate Boyden signed with the Seattle Sounders and UCSB teammate Drew McAthy was the #1 overall pick by the Portland Timbers.
This summer, UCSB alumnus Todd Rogers and his partner tore up the AVP Open, traveling alongside former Gaucho Brooke Niles Hanson.
Rogers and Niles Hanson both served as assistant coaches for the men’s and women’s programs at UCSB, but left this year to focus on their beach volleyball careers. Perhaps Niles Hanson came to this decision at the charge of Head Coach Kathy Gregory, who holds a degree from UCSB as well as 50 beach volleyball titles, which puts her fifth on the all-time list for the AVP.
Even the voices of professional sports have ties to UCSB. ESPN commentator and host of “Rome is Burning” Jim Rome launched his broadcasting career as a KCSB sports reporter.
This year, Gaucho fans can be sure to see future stars in the making at every game.