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Mid-major player to watch: St. Mary’s Emmett Naar

AP Photo/John Locher

The St. Mary’s Gaels remain the best program in the WCC not named the Gonzaga Bulldogs. Quietly, Randy Bennett has been turning the Gaels into the top destination for Australian-born players, and as a direct result his teams have regularly competed for a spot in the NCAA Tournament — regardless of what Mark Few and company are doing.

For this season’s version of St. Mary’s, another foreign-born player will make the team’s case to not be lost in a sea of national Gonzaga love. His name is Emmett Naar, and he happens to be a very good basketball player.

Naar represented Australia in international competition at the 2012 Under-18 FIBA Oceania Championships and the 2013 FIBA Under-19 World Championships in Prague before joining the university. That’s a typical journey for a point guard who is following the Patty Mills-Matthew Dellavedova path at SMC.

Since arriving on campus, Naar has been relatively brilliant.

As a redshirt freshman, he averaged 6.3 points, 2 rebounds and 3.9 assists per game. While those aren’t world-beater numbers, they can be placed in better context: Naar ranked fourth in the WCC in three-point percentage (.449), which ended up being the 11th-best single-season efficiency rating in program history. He also ranked fifth in the WCC in assists, and sixth in assist-turnover ratio; he was also a member of the WCC’s All-Freshman Team.

It wasn’t all gravy for him during his first season on a collegiate hardwood. Naar struggled from the floor, making only 39 percent of his field-goal attempts. It is a sincerely weird number, in that it runs against his smooth three-point stroke.

That strange divergence between two-point and three-point shooting was rectified during his redshirt sophomore season, when Naar became a well-rounded player. As opposing teams logically defended him beyond the three-point line, Naar’s numbers beyond the arc decreased slightly (42 percent), but his field-goal percentage jumped to 49 percent.

Because of his spectacular play, in a season in which he averaged over 14 points and 6 assists per game, Naar became a first team All-WCC selection. He also set — or tied — numerous single-season records, including total assists, as well as games played and started.

Basically, he became a big deal. Unfortunately, few outside the St. Mary’s (or WCC) faithful could tell Naar from a random WWE wrestler performing moonsaults on a Monday night.

That will change this season for the already 22-year-old 6-1 guard.

Thanks to Gonzaga doing an on-the-fly rebuild (the Zags will still be very good, for what it is worth), and due to the strength of its own returning roster, St. Mary’s should not only be competitive at the top of the WCC, but recognized on a national level.

Today’s U has the Gaels ranked as the 18th-best team entering the season. Many other outlets are also pegging them as a top-25 squad. With those expectations, more televised games will come. More games on the picture-box will mean more exposure for Naar. Thanks to that presumed exposure, Naar will become a national hero.

Wait! That’s (only) slight hyperbole.

Yes, it will help Naar’s (fictional) Q Score that he is fun to watch. All the numbers point to him being a good, potentially great player, but his shifty handle, neat-looking release, and brand of basketball most Gaels fans have become familiar with (which has been historically fun to consume) mean he’s one of the few sincere can’t-miss talents on the mid-major level.

Get on the bandwagon now, kids. Depending on which way the wind blows, especially if Naar comes out slinging during the non-conference portion of the Gaels’ schedule, that thing will be packed before March even hits and all those casual fans come crawling over.

Emmett Naar might not be a domestic product, but he can still be an American Hero. Think Fievel Goes West, but instead of an adventurous mouse scooping up a badge after leaving New York for Utah, it is a gifted Aussie doing amazing things for a program who appears to have a linear pipeline from its campus to the land Down Under.

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