By Simon Tryzna
MORAGA, Calif. -- In one of the most important games of the 2012-13 season, it was an Australian senior who stepped up in a big way and came through in the clutch to lead the Saint Mary's men's basketball team in a big 70-69 victory.
And no, it wasn't Matthew Dellavedova, the star point guard who helped beat Brigham Young by that score with a buzzer beater; rather, it was his teammate, classmate, and longtime friend Mitchell Young who grabbed an offensive rebound, drew a foul, and made two huge free throws to give the Gaels the win over Harvard in the last game before conference play.
The come from behind win spurred the Gaels to a 11-2 conference start and solidified Young's role as a leader and post presence on this year's team.
"That game, we really fought back as a team," said Young. "For me to able to get over the line and to make those two free throws... It was a really huge confidence boost for me and I think it was a pivotal win for us as a team."
While Dellavedova is the most well-known Aussie Gael, Young has also been instrumental to Saint Mary's rise as a nationally respected team.
The Gaels' recent success has given the college not only national but also international exposure. With most West Coast Conference games involving the Gaels being broadcast in Australia, Young has become a minor celebrity in his hometown of Logan, Queensland.
"When I go home, people know who Saint Mary's is and they know what Saint Mary's basketball is," said Young. "They are like 'Can I get a shirt? Can you sign this?' They really like watching us play."
Young's journey to Saint Mary's started on the soccer pitch. However, as Young grew taller, his soccer career was cut short - by his mother.
"My mom played basketball and she sort of dragged me down there to play," said Young. "I was really tall. I just tried it out and I really liked it. Ever since then..."
In 2008 and 2009, Young played at the Australian Institute of Sport, a prestigious sports training institution. There, he roomed with Jordan Page and Matthew Dellavedova. Having Australian players like Clint Steindl and Ben Allen already at Saint Mary's, and coming over with his AIS roommates, made the transition to America easier.
"It was a bit of a culture shock," said Young of his move to Moraga. "Coming over here together really helped."
Since he can only go home roughly once a year, Young has had plenty of time to explore the Bay Area, and has loved living here for the past four years.
"In what other place in the world do you have the beach, the snow, such a great city, such great people," Young said.
Even with a year-round basketball schedule, Young has found time to explore the area nearby, attending various events like baseball playoff games at AT&T Park or concerts at Golden Gate Park.
A big fan of music (his favorite band is Radiohead) Young tries to go out to see as many of his favorite bands and musicians as he can, attending concerts like Coachella, Outside Lands, and multiple concerts at the Fox Theater in Oakland.
Still, basketball comes first, and Young hopes to play professionally for as long as he can.
"I want to try to get to Europe," Young said.
After playing a key part in the Sweet 16 run his freshman year, and following it up with a monster sophomore campaign, Young's performance took a dip his junior year and carried over into the start of his senior year. With the Gaels record standing at 3-2, the coaching staff asked Young to work on his defensive game.
"That's leadership," said Gaels head coach Randy Bennett of Young's in-season improvement. "Us turning it around defensively has been a byproduct of some guys making that decision and he's one of them."
The improvement on the defensive end has given Young confidence, which has raised his offensive game and his minutes played. As a result of his hard work, Young is once again one of the key parts of the team.
"Having a deep run in the tournament was special," said Young.
Having another one in his senior year would be even better.