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Saint Mary's penalized for recruiting violations

Posted: March 1, 2013 2:00 p.m.
Updated: March 1, 2013 2:00 p.m.

Saint Mary's Gaels guard Matthew Dellavedova (4) tries to get around Brigham Young Cougars guard Matt Carlino in the first half of the NCAA basketball game. (AP)

 

MORAGA, Calif. (AP) — The NCAA has placed Saint Mary's on four years of probation for a "failure to monitor its men's basketball program," reducing scholarships after it says the perennial mid-major power committed several recruiting violations.

A report by the NCAA Committee on Infractions released Friday found that Gaels coach Randy Bennett "acted unethically in his recruitment of international prospects" and "failed to promote an atmosphere for compliance." Bennett will not be allowed to recruit off campus and will serve a five-game suspension next season.

Saint Mary's will still be allowed to participate in the West Coast Conference tournament and the NCAA tournament but can't play in preseason or in-season tournaments. The men's basketball program also will have a reduction in scholarships from 13 to 11 for the 2014-15 and 2015-16 seasons and an elimination of all foreign tours until the start of the 2017-18 season.

In addition, the NCAA charged an unnamed former assistant with unethical conduct, saying he "knowingly committed violations during the recruitment of three prospects." The report said that the assistant arranged for travel to the United States and lodging with a local family for at least one recruit and that Bennett was aware of the activity.

"These should have been red flags," Britton Banowsky, chair of the Committee on Infractions and commissioner of Conference USA, said during a conference call explaining the findings.

If the former assistant seeks employment at an NCAA member school in the next two years, he and the school must appear before the committee to determine if the school should be subject to the show-cause procedures. The NCAA also said Saint Mary's received "impermissible training and coaching sessions from trainers not employed by the school."

The university had a news conference scheduled later Friday morning to respond to the report.

Bennett has led the Gaels (25-5) to four of the last eight NCAA tournaments. They have developed a reputation as a mid-major worth watching, joining Gonzaga as the only schools to win at least 25 games each of the past six seasons. Duke, Kansas and BYU are the only other programs with a chance to keep pace in that club this season.

Saint Mary's has become a legitimate rival to second-ranked Gonzaga in the West Coast Conference, beating the Bulldogs for the outright regular season and league tournament titles last year. It was the first time the Gaels held both titles in the same season and ended Gonzaga's 4-year run with at least one conference championship.

Saint Mary's already has clinched the No. 2 seed in this year's league tournament.

The constants have been a head coach who values stability over whatever higher-profile job offer comes his way, and a pipeline of players from Australia who have teamed with mostly overlooked local recruits to build a winner. When Bennett began at the small Catholic college in San Francisco's East Bay in 2001, he inherited a 2-27 team with no winning tradition, a small following and a gym more suited for a high school team than a Division I powerhouse.

Now the gym is packed and offers one of the best atmospheres in California college hoops. The Australian connection that is so ingrained here — there is a flag in the gym, there were 36 televised games in Australia the past two seasons and there are frequent "Aussie, Aussie, Aussie! Oi, oi oi!" chants — started almost by accident.

Bennett got a tip to offer a scholarship to Adam Caporn shortly before his first season. Caporn, now an assistant on staff, was joined the next year by countryman Daniel Kickert.

There have been 11 Aussies in all who have suited up for the Gaels, including current San Antonio Spurs guard Patty Mills, whose arrival in 2007 helped start this current run of success, and reigning WCC player of the year Matthew Dellavedova.

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