‘They do what they do’: Coaches weigh in on the ceiling of Saint Mary’s and its star freshman, Aidan Mahoney

Around 1:00 a.m. ET on a predawn Sunday morning in Moraga, California, two storylines emerged: St. Mary’s was officially ready to end Gonzaga’s reign at the West Coast conference, and Aidan Mahaney was ready to become a national name.

The St. Marys came back in the final minutes to defeat Gonzaga in overtime, moving to 10-0 in the WCC and taking a two-game lead over the Bulldogs in the league standings. There is still a lot to play out in the final six games of the 2022-23 season, but Gonzaga’s 10-year streak of at least a share of the regular season title is in serious jeopardy.

The catalyst for the return of the Gaels was Mahaney, who became one of the best freshmen in college basketball. In the final 6:25 of regulation time plus overtime, Mahaney recorded 16 points and three assists, cementing his position in St. Mary-Gonzaga rivalry history.

This is arguably the best St Mary’s team that Randy Bennett has had since taking over in 2001, and Mahani looks to be one of Bennett’s best players at the time. But how good is Mahaney, really, and are the Gaels an NCAA second-weekend tournament team? We spoke to opposing coaches and NBA scouts to find out.

Mahani’s star turn puts him on the map

The 6-foot-3 security guard chose to stay close to home despite being recruited into several major programs. He entered the fall with preseason hype, but no one expected him to be in the WCC Player of the Year talk so quickly. He is averaging 15.0 points and shooting 41.6% from three-point range, and he has established himself as a key player on the team since joining the starting lineup for nine games in 2022-2023.

“Looks like he could be the conference player of the year,” said one of the WCC coaches. “I thought he would be a very good freshman, but [Tommy] Kuhse was also good last year. He was so good at the end of games. Now, however, they have a real dude. He answered these questions. The blows he delivered to Gonzaga. Patty Mills and [Matthew] Dellavedova are the only two guys who were as good as freshmen. He has incredible confidence.”

Mahani’s later heroism was not limited to playing Gonzaga. In the previous two games, he hit the winner against BYU with 0.3 seconds left to give St. Mary’s a one-point victory and scored 13 points in the second half in the win over San Francisco.

“He’s mentally strong,” said one WCC executive. “He will become more athletic as he gets stronger. He is comfortable playing pick and roll. He can shoot with or without the ball. He is not afraid. Houston didn’t intimidate him.”

While it’s too early to consider Mahaney a future NBA draft pick, his confidence and quick adjustment to college play has at least got him scouted.


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