Hoop wins instead of Mouse ears for Paycom Wooden Legacy participants

By Phil Collin

Anaheim, Calif., Nov. 22, 2022 – They didn’t arrive in Southern California to get their mouse ears on, but the four basketball teams in the Paycom Wooden Legacy have a pretty good reason nonetheless.

In the two-day event, Fresno State, Washington, Vanderbilt and Saint Mary’s not only have the opportunity to maneuver their way as the season unfolds, but also look forward to representing themselves in the tribute to legendary UCLA Coach John Wooden.

“I went to John Wooden’s basketball camp when I was 10 years old and I still have the picture with me and him. A true legend,” said Washington Coach Mike Hopkins, who grew up just down the road in Orange County. “My father for years would just quote Coach Wooden, so to be able to be a part of this not only a tournament in his name, but a tournament that has so much weight nationally on ESPN, we’re honored to be a part of it.”

Washington (3-1) will face Fresno State (1-3) in Wednesday’s first game, followed by Saint Mary’s (5-0) vs. Vanderbilt (2-2). The winners will square off in Thursday’s championship game after the third-place game at the Anaheim Convention Center.

“It’s an honor to play in a tournament with John Wooden’s name on it,” said Saint Mary’s Coach Randy Bennett, who brings the Gaels to this tournament for the fourth time. “He’s the greatest coach of all time. One of the classiest, most humble, wisest leaders that I’ve ever met.

“Just for us to have the privilege of playing in this thing is why we’re here. We’re excited to be in it. As far as Vanderbilt, they’re a good program. We’ve played them a number of times and they’ve always been a tough team for us to play against. They’re well coached, they have good players and they come from a great conference. It’s the kind of test and challenge we need to see in the non-conference.”

The balanced Gaels, with four players averaging in double digits in scoring, have outscored their five opponents by an average of 22 points.

Guided by former North Carolina All-America and 18-year NBA veteran Jerry Stackhouse, Vanderbilt has evened its record with consecutive victories. “We’re looking to take advantage of a great environment out here in Anaheim,” Stackhouse said. “Being selected to compete in this tournament is an important step for our program. We had a great experience at the Diamond Head Classic last season and are looking forward to this year’s event.

“Playing Saint Mary’s and possibly Washington or Fresno State, it’s a great opportunity for us to continue to build and measure ourselves. Hopefully all the teams here go on to have really strong seasons.”

The Commodores brings some impressive defensive numbers into the tournament, with the team limiting opponents to 39.6 percent from the field and 27.3 percent against 3-pointers.

Fresno State of the Mountain West Conference brings an injury-riddled squad into the event. Point guard Isaiah Hill is out with a concussion and the Bulldogs have yet to see newcomer and potential starter Jordan Brinson on the court.

Coach Justin Hutson forges on as the defensive-minded Bulldogs try to jump-start their 2022-23 campaign.

“Where we’re at right now is we just have to form an identity and get better,” Hutson said. “We’re not very good at this point in time. We’ve played some good teams but we’re not very good right now at playing together at either end of the floor, have an identity on either end of the floor and we’re developing that.

“We played pretty good defense last time out, now we’ve got to share the ball, move it, set screens, and execute. It’s going to have to be both ends. We’ve done some things defensively but not to our standards.”