Veterans ready to lead Gauchos to greater heights

UCSB’s star basketball player Orlando Johnson was answering a question about not being satisfied with just making the NCAA Tournament. “… We’ve seen how these other mid-majors have made it to the Final Four. I don’t know why that can’t be us …’’

Before he could say another word, coach Bob Williams playfully pulled the microphone away from Johnson, drawing huge laughs from those in attendance at the Gaucho Basketball Media Day at the Cabrillo Arts Center.

With Johnson joining returning starters James Nunnally and Jaime Serna, and 7-foot-3 reserve Greg Somogyi from back-to-back NCAA Tournament teams, and transfer point guard Nate Garth from a New Mexico tournament team, expectations are sky high at UCSB.

But Williams is quick to point out that the Gauchos aren’t even favored to win the Big West.

“… Long Beach is picked to win it and they should be,” Williams said. “Long Beach had a great year last year and they have four starters back and we have three. Long Beach added a couple of junior college pieces that will really help them, we have a couple of transfers that should really help us. Both teams are really deep, but the whole Big West is really improved. You’re looking at, I think, four teams that have a chance to be top 100 teams in the country.”

Williams noted that Johnson is nursing a sore Achilles tendon right now, but Nunnally has stepped up and is playing the best basketball in his career.

“He’s a next-level player. He’s grown a ton as a player, a leader, a teammate.”

Nunnally said he’s accepted the responsibility to help lead the team. “We’re the veterans of this teams, and I know I have a bigger role.”

Garth, who sat out last season after transferring from New Mexico, is chomping at the bit to get back on the court.

“I don’t think I’ve had much sleep,” he joked. “It’s been a long time coming.”