Welcome to our latest post in West Coast Convo’s X Factors series where we take a look at some players who could be key to their team’s success this season. Next up is Aaron Bright of the Saint Mary’s Gaels. Is he the next in a line of elite guards that help tie together the offense and keep the Gaels competitive in a conference that is getting deeper and deeper? Let’s take a closer look.
The Gaels entered the 2013-14 season with some questions marks after losing some key seniors. None of them were more glaring than the task of replacing WCC superstar Matthew Dellavedova. The Australian guard carried the Gaels his entire career, and he was the heart and soul of team. He left a huge hole in the lineup taking with him the school’s all-time records for points, assists, and three pointers. Dellavedova did it all in his time at Saint Mary’s, and replacing his production was priority number one.
Fortunately, the Gaels had a very capable replacement in Stephen Holt. Already playing a key part in the rotation, Holt absorbed an even bigger role as team leader and facilitator after the departure of Dellavedova. Nobody would have blamed him if he couldn’t completely match Dellavadova’s production, but Holt stepped up and filled the role amazingly well.
Holt was named First Team All-WCC, and his 15.2 points per game led the team and were almost identical to Dellavedova’s 15.8 he put as a senior. Holt also finished in the top ten in the WCC in assists and three pointer made per game, although his numbers there did have a noticeable drop-off from Dellavedova’s.
In an ideal world, the Gaels would have the depth and talent to simply make the same transition they did from Dellavedova to Holt with going from Holt to another veteran player. Unfortunately, they don’t have that luxury this time. The Gaels were decimated at the guard position this offseason even outside of losing Dellavedova. They lost two other guards to graduation. A even bigger loss was Jordan Giusti transferring. He was getting more and more minutes and probably would have played a sizable role this season.
The only guard left from last year with a lot of veteran experience is Kerry Carter, but he is more of an offensive weapon and is not a fit as a full-time floor general who can create opportunities. Former Minnesota guard Joe Coleman is becoming eligible after sitting out a year due to transfer rules, but he too is more geared towards points than assists.
A good assists player is something the Gaels have always needed and valued because of their strength across the starting lineup. mostly notably down low with Brad Waldow. The impact center is back for his senior season and will be the centerpiece of the team, so the Gaels desperately needed someone to create opportunities for him and others.
Fortunately for the Gaels, they did an excellent job of looking ahead and had addressed this issue even before Holt and the other guards had finished playing for them. In February they acquired former Stanford guard Aaron Bright, and he is the X Factor that will be tasked with replacing Stephen Holt. Bright was a very productive player for the Cardinal, but he suffered a season-ending shoulder injury early last season and ended up opting to move to Saint Mary’s. He graduated from Stanford and will have one year of eligibility left under the NCAA graduate transfer rules.
This would be a huge pickup for the Gaels to get a quality Pac-12 transfer any year, but with the above problem of replacing Holt a huge issue it comes at an even more perfect time. Bright was a very strong player at Stanford starting the majority of their games in his sophomore and junior seasons. In both those two years he had a very impressive stat line averaging 10.6 points and 3.5 assists per game. Even with missing most of last season and not playing much his freshman year, Bright leaves Stanford at tenth on their all-time assists list.
February 16, 2013; Stanford, CA, USA; Stanford Cardinal guard Aaron Bright (2) looks to pass the ball as UCLA Bruins guard Jordan Adams (3) looks on in the first half at the Maples Pavilion. The Bruins defeated the Cardinal 88-80. Mandatory Credit: Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports
Bright has the look and potential of a guy that can do the things the Gaels need to replace Holt. While Bright is much shorter than Holt, he has proven at a high level that he can put up both points and assists in quality amounts. With some quality scoring guards on the roster and a force inside with Waldow, Bright won’t even be asked to do much scoring.
He is on the roster to get assists and make sure all the potential double digit scorers on the roster get their opportunities. But the fact that Bright can also put up double digits is a nice bonus, and there will probably be games where he is asked to do more scoring if others are struggling.
Bright’s production had slowly been dipping from his big sophomore season even before his injury, so the move from the Pac-12 down to the WCC will likely do him a lot of good. Taking off some of the pressure of him having to score a points could help too, and he will have tons of talent around him to allow him focus on assists and leading the offense.
Having that kind of guy to tie together the whole offense has been a key component of the team’s success dating back to Patty Mills, so if Bright can fill the role well it will be huge. The offense and in turn the entire season could ride on how well Bright can step into this role right away. Fortunately for the Gaels they found a good player for the job from outside the program, and they should be optimistic about their chances with him in the lineup.