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#83: UC-Santa Barbara Gauchos

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Last Year: 27-8; Big West Regular Season (15-5) and Tournament Champions, lost in the First Round of the NCAA Tournament

Head Coach: Joe Pasternack (Seventh Year; 132-53 at UCSB, with two NCAA Tournament appearances

Projected Starting Lineup

G Ajay Mitchell – 6’5″, 190 – Junior
G Ben Shtolzberg – 6’4″, 195 – Sophomore
G Josh Pierre-Louis – 6’4″, 190 – Senior
F/C Yohan Traoré – 6’11”, 235 – Sophomore
C Mezziah Oakman – 7’0″, 235 – Junior
Projected Starters’ 2022-23 Stats

Ajay Mitchell: 16.3 ppg, 2.7 rpg, 5.1 apg, 1.3 spg – 50.6% FG

Ben Shtolzberg: 1.5 ppg, 0.9 rpg, 0.6 apg, 0.2 spg, – 37.5% FG @ Creighton

Josh Pierrie-Louis: 9.5 ppg, 3.9 rpg, 2.4 apg, 1.3 spg – 50.9% FG

Yohan Traoré: 2.1 ppg, 1.4 rpg, 0. 2 apg, 0.1 bpg – 40.0% FG @ Auburn

Mezziah Oakman: 11.3 ppg, 6.8 rpg, 1.9 bpg – 63.6% FG @ City College of San Fransisco

Experienced Reserves

G Cole Anderson – 6’4″, 185 – Junior
F/C Koat Keat Tong – 6’10”, 210 – Sophomore
C Evans Kipruto – 6’8″, 250 – Junior
W Matija Belic – 6’7″, 205 – Sophomore
F Ariel Bland – 6’7″, 215 – Junior
Experienced Reserves’ 2022-23 Stats

Cole Anderson: 7.3 ppg, 1.4 rpg, 0.6 apg, 0.4 spg – 41.5% 3FG

Koat Keat Tong: 1.9 ppg, 3.9 rpg, 0.3 apg, 0.4 spg – 40.5% FG

Evans Kipruto: 1.5 ppg, 0.9 rpg, 0.2 apg, 0.3 bpg – 59.1% FG

Ariel Bland: 1.3 ppg, 1.1 rpg, 0.3 apg, 0.3 bpg in 2021-22


G Jason Fontenet II – 66″, 190 – Freshman
F Killian Brockhoff – 6’9″, 225 – Freshman / Germany
G Elia Bongiorno – 6’2″, 190 – Freshman / Italy

UC Santa Barbara is not one of those mid-major programs which hasn’t won anything of substance for decades. The Gauchos had a tremendous run under longtime head coach Bob Williams, who won six different Big West titles and took UCSB to the NCAA Tournament three times over his 18-year career. 

It’s just that under current head coach Joe Pasternack, the Gauchos are positioning themselves to take success to a whole new level. 

In his six years so far as UCSB’s coach, Pasternack has won 132 games, two Big West regular season titles, two Big West Tournaments, and has twice taken the Gauchos to the NCAA Tournament. In fact, Pasternack has only failed to win 21+ games once so far in Santa Barbara. And now, having achieved such success, Pasternack is recruiting like a high major coach. To a talented returning roster, Pasternack and his staff have added probably their best class yet. Having raided the Big East and SEC for talent and brought in one of the highest-ranked freshmen in program history, Pasternack isn’t resting on the laurels of last season’s 27 wins: he’s molding the Gauchos into a program that can compete with anyone. 

The Gauchos’ Ajay Mitchell is a program-defining star (UCSB Athletics)

With defending Big West Player of the Year Ajay Mitchell back in the fold, the Gauchos have a legitimate emerging superstar to build around. Mitchell, from Ans, Liege, Belgium, stepped straight into the Gauchos’ lineup two years ago without ever having actually visited the campus prior to committing due to the Covid-19 Pandemic. “[We] literally did Zoom recruiting, showed him the campus, showed him the ocean, the Thunderdome over Zoom and recruited him that way relentlessly for about a year,” Pasternack told KSBY’s Dylan Foreman. Without much of an introduction, Mitchell became Santa Barbara’s top guard. He followed up his Big West Rookie of the Year campaign by leading the league in assists and minutes played last year, while ranking second in free throws made and attempted, third in steals, and sixth in points per game. Son of Barry Mitchell, a star at Norfolk State who then played professionally overseas, Ajay Mitchell has pro size and a pro handle, and as he continues to add strength, he will become an even more complete player. “In Belgium, it was more like fundamentals; knowing how to use your footwork, your dribble,” Mitchell says of his acclimation to the American game. “I wasn’t a huge athlete. I was very small when I was in high school.”

Now, Mitchell stands nearly 6’5″ – just like his dad – and has begun to fill out his frame. Mitchell put it on the deck more than ever before last year, getting into the lane for quick slashes to the bucket and highlight reel passes. He shot 64% on 186 attempts near the rim, per Bart Torvik, helping Mitchell to earn the chance to pump up his free throw numbers. By the end of last season, he had both attempted and made the second-most foul shots in the Big West, and Mitchell did his work at an 81.3% rate. Mitchell has been an occasional catch-and shoot threat from distance, but must add a consistently dangerous 3 ball to his arsenal to reach the next level.  Last year, he sank just 20 shots from the land of trey, and made them at a 26.7% rate. With his fluidity and strong free throw percentage, Mitchell’s deep jumper shouldn’t be too far from reaching true effectiveness. And after two years of outstanding play, there is no reason to begin doubting him now. “I think he is an NBA point guard and players and recruits want to play with a great player,” says Pasternack of Mitchell. “He just loves Santa Barbara, loves this community, loves UCSB and now it’s our job to find some great players to surround him with.”

The Gauchos will feature at least five skilled players this year who stand at least 6’8″ (UCSB Athletics)

About those great players. Santa Barbara has had some talented bigs in the recent past; Mark Hull did a good job in the early 2000’s, as did Eagle River, Alaska’s very own Chris Devine a few years later. Bob Williams also had an extraordinary player in 2014 Big West Player of the Year Alan Williams, and Pasternack has coached standouts like Jalen Canty and Amadou Sow before the Gauchos featured Andre Kelly and Miles Norris last year. None of those players possessed the combination of size, athleticism, and emerging skill which Yohan Traoré brings to the equation. A 5-star recruit after coming to play his final two years of prep basketball in the USA, Traoré originally pledged to the Auburn Tigers, but didn’t get the minutes he had hoped for. Now, Traoré is going to be the go-to guy in the paint for Pasternack, and shouldn’t lack for high-quality opportunities. “He’s a big guy and he really, really plays hard,” says Pasternack of his highest-rated transfer. “I’m really excited about him.”

While Gregory of Tours wrote 10 Books which became a definitive history of the Franks, Yohan of Tours (France) is going to author a rim-rattling chronicle in Santa Barbara. “He’s got tremendous size, skill and could be monster in the middle.” Says Eric Bossi of 247 Sports about Traoré. Bossi calls UCSB’s transfers a ‘sneaky great haul’ and expects Traoré to be the show-stopping crown jewel. An outstanding athlete who can already rim-run and block shots with abandon, Traoré also has good hands and the quick feet which should translate into great post possessions for the Gauchos as he polishes his game. With a big frame to fill out and a 7’3″ (or more?) wingspan, Traoré can simply engulf some opponents in the lane, and he can clean the glass on both ends even when the ball takes a funny carom away from his position. And when he sets a screen in the halfcourt, Traoré will be in prime position to roll and throw down scores upon scores of dunks off of precise feeds from Mitchell.

Yohan of Tours is going to author a rim-rattling chronicle in Santa Barbara

With an inside-outside duo to rely upon, many other things should fall into place for the Gauchos. Josh Pierre-Luis is back to provide a veteran option for Pasternack, and after three seasons of steady progress, Pierre-Luis is ready to fit in with his new teammates in a winning way. Like Mitchell, Pierre-Luis is a big guard who can get into the painted area and create for himself and others. He’s been extremely efficient off the bounce, shooting between 62 and 64% at the rim in each of his three seasons on the West Coast. The New Jersey native’s effectiveness falls off rather quickly outside of the lane, though; Pierre-Luis shot 29% on all shots away from the hoop last season, and is just a 58% career free throw shooter. He also gives away almost as many turnovers as the assists he hands out, and Pierre-Luis must play a cleaner, more efficient game in order to take the next step. Pierre-Luis ranked eighth in the Big West in steals last year, and has consistently been numbered among the better and more tenacious perimeter defenders in the league. If Pierre-Luis can add a reliable jumper in his final season, he should have the best year of his career. 

Josh Pierre-Luis has helped to lead the Gauchos’ rise (UCSB Athletics)

Cole Anderson is a vital outside shooter on a team without very many of them. Despite all of the talent ahead of him, Anderson had a miniature breakout year last winter. He more than doubled his average minutes from freshman to sophomore season, and made 54 treys – only five off of the team-best 59 which Norris splashed – at a team-high 41.5% mark. He’s got good length and a fluid release, and Pasternack is going to need Anderson to keep it up. In an era when everyone wants to shoot the three, UCSB ranked 340th in 3FG’s and 351st in the nation in three point attempts per game last year, and without Norris and Ajare Sanni, the Gauchos return just 3.4 made triples per game. Anderson attempted just 12 shots near the rim last year, per Bart Torvik, so beyond maintaining his production from the outside, Anderson can grow his role by showing more scoring punch all over the court than he does currently as a jump shooter. Regardless of whether he is able to do so, Anderson is one of Pasternack’s most important returnees, and should see plenty of kickouts for open triple tries off of the tremendous action the Gauchos will again see out of the post. 

As much as the veteran returnees are going to help Mitchell, it may well be that the Gauchos’ second-best perimeter scorer this year is another fresh face. California native Ben Shtolzberg had headed East to play for the Creighton Bluejays last year as a highly-rated freshman. Creighton had an up-and-down year, though, and Shtolzberg wasn’t able to unseat the team’s veteran core for backcourt minutes. So he’s returned to the West Coast, and now, Pasternack is ready to see what a year of Big East competition has done for the scoring talents which had scouts buzzing about Shtolzberg not so long ago. “For me, practice is almost bigger than the games. You have 125 practices and only 31 to 38 games. To know that Ben Shtolzberg, what he did every day in practice at Creighton, one of the top 10 or 15 teams in the country. Every single day, what he did going up against those guys for 125 practices,” Pasternack told 247 Sports this summer. Shtolzberg has the size and sweet outside stroke to be helpful right away. His length lets Shtolzberg shoot over lots of guards, and he’s good at moving without the ball and also keeping it moving around the perimeter. He may have been buried on the depth chart as a rookie, but Pasternack expects Shtolzberg to be a high-scoring supporting actor he can rely upon this time around. 

Five Stats Which Tell The Tale (with national ranks)
54.1% – Team Effective FG Percentage (30th)
49.0% – Team Shooting Percentage (6th)
44.7% – Opponent Shooting Percentage (216th)
+5.3 – Average Score Margin (66th)
11.2 – Turnovers Per Game (58th)

Pasternack had also lured talented Kansas transfer Zach Clemence to play for the Gauchos this spring, but the Jayhawk big man decided ultimately to return to Lawrence. Thus, Traoré will take turns pairing up with JuCo newcomer Mezziah Oakman and an international cast of returnees including Koat Keat Tong and Evans Kipruto. Tong is a very raw offensive player, but had the best per-minute rebounding rate on the team last year. Considering that Norris and Kelly combined to average better than a dozen rebounds per game last year, that was no mean feat. Unfortunately, Tong was lost before the conclusion of his rookie year with a knee injury, and he spent the summer rehabilitating it in anticipation of a much bigger role than the 13 minutes he averaged last season. Despite missing a dozen games and coming off the bench, the South Sudanese Tong finished third on the team in offensive boards, and he showed tremendous promise at disruptively guarding a variety of opposing post players. If Tong is healthy and ready to go this fall, he should earn plenty of minutes during which he can feast on the boards and flush some of the good feeds that don’t end up in Traoré’s hands. 

Oakman is a seven footer who comes to the Gauchos from the same junior college, City College of San Francisco, as Canty and Norris. If he can be even close to as effective as those two, UCSB’s frontcourt will be in great shape. A mobile pivot who can get end-to-end in a hurry and has shown surprising passing skills out of the post, Oakman isn’t just some dude who happens to be tall. He has solid form at the foul line, and has shown the ability to knock down elbow jumpers and hook shots, but many of Oakman’s buckets will still come from the offensive glass and rolls to the rim. A proven shot blocker, Oakman should combine with Traoré to make life considerably less than ideal for any opponents trying to get a clean look at the rim. His defense will likely be ahead of his scoring, but if Oakman can earn solid minutes by doing the little things he’s already familiar with, he should play a significant role this year. 

Koat Keat Tong is part of a big, talented arsenal USCB will feature up front (UCSB Athletics)

Kipruto, from Kenya, came off the bench to score six key points in UCSB’s Big West semifinal win over Zyon Pullin and UC Riverside, and played 12 minutes with five points against Baylor in the NCAA Tournament. His production for the season was sporadic, though, as were his minutes. Kipruto is big and strong, can block shots and is tough to keep off of the glass. This year he hopes to be more of a fixture in the lineup, and as things shuffle, he will have his chance. Pasternack wants to play more quickly this season, and after the Gauchos played three exhibition games in Canada this summer, UCSB’s boss liked what he saw from the team’s big guys. “We’ve really been working on picking up our pace, and it was definitely evident on the trip,” he told Santa Barbara’s Noozhawk. “Our bigs can really run…Yohan is very fast…Evans is very fast…Mezziah? Fast!” The Gauchos ranked just 320th nationally in possessions per game last year, and with both more shooters and better rebounding, Pasternack wants his guys to get out and go.

Matija Belic and Ariel Bland seem destined to share the forward spot when Pasternack wants to slide Traoré into the middle and operate with a sleeker, quicker lineup. Bland redshirted last season, but brings a solid, rangy frame and real rebounding acumen. If he can score a few points it would be great, but Bland’s biggest value will likely come as an end-to-end disruptor and solid defensive presence. Belic spent the summer playing with his native Serbia at the FIBA U-20 European Championships. There, he averaged better than 27 minutes and 7.6 points per game, with better than a block and steal each per contest. Belic can shoot the three and is a good passer who can operate on the perimeter. The more he shows a willingness to play an effective interior game also, the sooner Belic could emerge as a solid starter. 

Five Out-of-Conference Games to Keep an Eye on
@ New Mexico – December 6
@ Fresno State – November 27
@ UTEP – November 13
vs Loyola Marymount – December 16
vs Portland State – November 9

New to the rotation – and to college basketball in general – will be three talented youngsters from different parts of the globe. Pasternack expects Jason Fontenet II, the only American-born one of them, to make an immediate impact. “He’s the real deal,” Pasternack said of Fontenet after the Canadian trip. “He can get to the basket and he can really shoot the ball…He’s gained 10 pounds of muscle this summer…He’s about 6-5½ and weighs 200 pounds and is as strong as an ox. He’s going to play a lot.” A big guard with both a high skill level and confidence in taking people off the bounce, Fontenet also looked good lining up deep balls in the Gauchos’ exhibition games, and will provide UCSB with a dangerous mismatch weapon in their games against the better teams on the schedule. Killian Brockhoff is a scoring forward from Germany who, like Fontenet, possesses high major size and skill. He can knock down jumpers reliably from 15+ feet and has a good feel for passing the ball. A good chunk of the minutes which Clemence may have played this year could well end up being Brockhoff’s. Italian playmaker and shooter Elia Bongiorno is stuck behind a strong bunch of young guards all gunning for a role. His savvy and good size – combined with international experience – should help out down the line. 

The amount of potential this UCSB team has will be vast. Not only has this program emerged as a conference power; with the types of ballyhooed prospects that Pasternack is now luring to play for the Gauchos, he’s setting his program up to compete with the big dogs in March. 

Head Coach Joe Pasternack has taken a proud program to new heights (UCSB Athletics)

“I just think our style of play has really excited them,” Pasternack told 247 Sports this summer of his recent raids of highly-rated talent from brand-name programs. “Our location and our winning culture has been something they all want to be a part of.”

The Gauchos’ coach has a point. Winning big and great weather on the beach are a pretty solid sales pitch, and UCSB has had plenty of all to offer recruits lately. Santa Barbara was incredibly efficient inside the arc last year, but struggled to consistently knock down triples or outrebound their opponents. Shtolzberg and Traoré have the skills to help out in those areas, while Fontenet, Oakman and Brockhoff give the Gauchos a trio of big, talented players who are simply going to be mismatches against their Big West foes most nights. Which is exactly the idea. UCSB isn’t just playing for the same old trophies anymore: the Gauchos are out to hunt bigger game. 

“Our goals go beyond what we did this year,” Pasternack stated to KEYT News this summer. “We are trying to continue to build a program. Compete for championships and advance in the NCAA Tournament.”

4 responses to “#83: UC-Santa Barbara Gauchos”

  1.  Avatar

    Good review, but a quick update. Teng may redshirt this season. Also, as good as Coach Williams’ tenure was, the great teams were in the late 80’s and early 90’s under Coach Pimm. Also, in addition to Alan Williams being in the NBA, other great Gauchos were James Nunnally and Orland Johnson in the early 2010’s. This just happened today.

    1. AndyHoops Avatar

      Bummer, sorry to hear that about Tong. Hope he heals up well; fortune for the Gauchos to have plenty of depth up front. Thanks too for the additional context! Always cool to hear more about the greats that were.

      1.  Avatar

        yes, and thanks for the correct spelling of Tong. He thinks he can return this season, but the consensus is he will redshirt. There may be updates on him and other players later.

  2.  Avatar

    You did some research! However it’s Josh Pierre-Louis, not Luis.

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4 responses to “#83: UC-Santa Barbara Gauchos”

  1.  Avatar

    Good review, but a quick update. Teng may redshirt this season. Also, as good as Coach Williams’ tenure was, the great teams were in the late 80’s and early 90’s under Coach Pimm. Also, in addition to Alan Williams being in the NBA, other great Gauchos were James Nunnally and Orland Johnson in the early 2010’s. This just happened today.

    1. AndyHoops Avatar

      Bummer, sorry to hear that about Tong. Hope he heals up well; fortune for the Gauchos to have plenty of depth up front. Thanks too for the additional context! Always cool to hear more about the greats that were.

      1.  Avatar

        yes, and thanks for the correct spelling of Tong. He thinks he can return this season, but the consensus is he will redshirt. There may be updates on him and other players later.

  2.  Avatar

    You did some research! However it’s Josh Pierre-Louis, not Luis.

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