Three recruited walk-ons are looking to gain some traction at UCSB when the Gaucho basketball team gathers for summer workouts next month.
Westlake’s 6-foot-2 Kyle MacLean, Arroyo Grande’s 6-3 Gage Gomez, and 6-9 Niko Rocak of New Hampshire’s Phillips Exeter Academy all have high-hoop dreams even if they don’t have scholarships.
“They’re really good kids and really good players, too,” UCSB coach Joe Pasternack said. “I think they’ll add a lot to our practices on a daily basis.”
The Gauchos will be a tough lineup to crack next year with a veteran roster that includes four seniors, a graduate transfer, and three juniors. But all three walk-ons are banking on bright futures after having turned down other opportunities.
MacLean comes with a pedigree, having been tutored by an NBA father. Don MacLean set the Pac-12’s all-time scoring record while at UCLA and played nine seasons in the NBA before tutoring Ventura County’s top prospects in the Conejo Valley Basketball Club. Former UCSB star Branduinn Fullove was one of his first pupils.
Kyle is eight inches shorter than his 6-foot-10 father but his jump shot is as long as they come. He set school records at Westlake this year with 110 3-pointers and 660 points, averaging 22.0 points and 6.3 rebounds per game. He led the Warriors to a 26-5 record and their first Marmonte League championship since 2014.
He was named league MVP and made CalHi’s All-State Division III Second Team. He also made Westlake’s honor roll with a grade-point average of 4.45 that was beefed up by five advanced placement classes.
MacLean’s recruitment, however, was hampered by a broken wrist that wiped out nearly all of his junior season and by the COVID-19 pandemic which denied him campus visits this spring. UCSB’s academic offerings and location made it his most appealing option.
“He had some opportunities to play at lower levels, which he strongly considered for a long time,” Don MacLean said. “I think as it went along, he understood how hard he worked in the classroom to get accepted to a place like UC Santa Barbara, and I think that’s what he ultimately went with.
“If basketball remains a part of his college career for four years, great… But if it doesn’t, I think he’s in the right place. And I think that’s kind of how he came to his decision.”
Kyle, who was hotly pursued by such smaller schools as Cal Lutheran and Occidental, is giving Division I basketball his best shot with workouts to expand his game beyond shooting. UC Irvine, UC Davis, San Diego State and the University of San Diego also asked him to walk on.
“I’m doing quickness drills on the court and stuff like that,” Kyle said. “But I’d say the main part of that is building up my stamina.
“I’ve been doing cardio every single day and I feel I can get my conditioning up. That way I won’t get as tired on the defensive end.”
Gomez has also devoted his offseason to becoming a better athlete. The dead-eye lefthander proved his shooting ability this season by averaging 21 points to lead Arroyo Grande to a CIF-State Division III championship game that wound up getting cancelled by the coronavirus.
He’s now trying to use the subsequent lockdowns to his advantage.
“Most people might not be training now,” said Gomez, who made CalHi’s All-State Division III First Team. “Right now is when I can make my strides and take advantage of every moment I can of working out, getting bigger, faster, stronger, and working on my game.
“You can put your head in the sand or you can face adversity and make the most of it. We can’t go play five-on-five, can’t go play pickup, can’t get into the gym, but all you really need is a hoop, a basketball and some concrete… Just trust the work and everything will fall into place.”
His decision to pursue a Division I career without a scholarship was girded by a quote from his club coach, 3Ball’s Mike Wozniak: “The road to success is always under construction.”
“I know Woz preaches that all the time but it really resonates with me,” Gomez said. “I had to overcome a ton of adversity. There were a lot of ups and a lot of downs. It helped me develop a mentality of refusing to let people tell me what I can’t do.”
Rocak, like MacLean, received offers from mostly lower-level schools after having his junior season curtailed by an injury. And like the other two Gaucho walk-ons, his focus this offseason has been on getting into better shape.
“I feel like I’m very versatile,” said Rocak, a native of Switzerland. “I can play inside, I can play outside. I feel like I’ve still got to improve both areas — there’s always room for improvement — but my major weakness was conditioning.”
He’s honed his game with the Middlesex Magic, a prestigious club program which has 60 alumni now in college basketball and two others — Miami’s Duncan Robinson and Milwaukee’s Pat Connaughton — who graduated into the NBA.
Rocak comes to UCSB with a strong recommendation from New England Recruiting Report, which scouted him in last season’s Scholar Roundball Classic in Wellesley, Mass.: “He’s moving well, stretching the floor consistently, and showing off the full scope of his skill-set within Exeter’s offense.”
He got another thumbs up from J.D. Slajchert, who also played for both UCSB and Phillips Exeter Academy:
“The pipeline is real,” Slajchert said. “Welcome to the family.”