The Saint Martin’s University men’s basketball team had much to celebrate last year, namely winning the Great Northwest Athletic Conference regular season championship and advancing to the NCAA Sweet 16.

Both were firsts for the Saints.

Turnover, however, hit the program hard this past off season. Gone from the title-winning squad was all five starters, most of its bench and even its coaching staff.

The one thing SMU does return this season? Enthusiasm. And plenty of it.

After being a conference also-ran for so many seasons, the past two years of success has created a significant buzz around the campus.

This year, the Saints have a new head coach in Aaron Landon, 10 new players, including six freshmen, and no seniors.

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Schumacher makes a pass during SMU’s 99-76 victory over Capilano. Photo credit: Grant Clark

“We feel pressure. Not from people on campus. They’ve been really great with us. They know we’re going to grow as a team. They know we’re going to find our own path,” Landon said. “This team cares and puts (the pressure) on themselves. This team is super emotionally invested in getting this thing right. We know it’s going to take some time, but we want to be great for this campus community and for Thurston County.”

If anyone holds the blueprint on how to successfully build a winner in the college ranks in Thurston County, it’s Landon.

While SMU was building up its resume in Lacey the past few seasons, Landon was doing the same just down the road at South Puget Sound Community College.

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Head coach Aaron Landon takes over the SMU program following his stint at SPSCC where he led the Clippers to three straight division championships. Photo credit: Grant Clark

With Landon at the helm, the Clippers made the transition from a toothless, 20-plus loss team to perennial Northwest Athletic Conference power, evident by SPSCC winning the last three West Regional championships and becoming nearly unbeatable on their homecourt.

Despite being the defending conference champions, the Saints were picked to finish last in the 2019 Great Northwest Athletic Conference Men’s Basketball Preseason Coaches Poll.

Much of that had to do with what SMU lost from last year’s team, including all-conference guard Luke Chavez, who’s now a member of Landon’s coaching staff. Two players – junior center Marky Adams and junior guard Caden Smith – return from last year’s team, but both saw limited action off the bench.

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Marky Adams (No. 32), one of just two returning players from last season’s conference championship team, fights for a rebound against Capilano. Photo credit: Grant Clark

New faces include junior guards Demonte Malloy and John Moore, two players Landon is familiar with, having coached both at SPSCC last year. Malloy, a 6-foot-3 guard, paced South Puget Sound in scoring as a sophomore.

“More than anything I know what they are about as people,” Landon said about Malloy and Moore. “I love those guys. I just love what they are about and who they are. And they love it here too. No one wanted to leave (Thurston County). Demonte had scholarship offers from other schools. John could have gone somewhere else, but we all want to be here. We want to put this thing back together. I wish we could do it faster but were going to do it.”

Additional newcomers this season include junior transfer guard C.J. Jennings and freshman guard Alex Schumacher, as well as Logan Rooney, a 6-6 guard/forward who reshirted last year for the Saints.

“The one thing a lot of us on this team share is we had to work really hard to get here, and now that we’re here we really want to figure out how we can put this thing together the right way and get it back to where it was,” Landon said.

Saint Martin’s opened the season with a home loss to No. 5 UC San Diego before dropping two close contests at the Dixie State Classic in Utah to Westminster College and Dixie State.

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Junior guard Demonte Malloy (No. 3) leads the Saints in scoring through the opening four games of the season. Photo credit: Grant Clark

Win No. 1 in the London era came at Marcus Pavilion on November 18 when the Saints hammered visiting Capilano, 99-76.

Through the opening four games, Malloy leads the team with a 15.5 points per game average, while Schumacher and Jennings average 14 and 13 points a contest, respectively.

Saint Martin’s will kick off its GNAC slate on the road at Northwest Nazarene on December 5.

The Saints will play at Central Washington before heading to Hawaii for the D2 Power Invitational December 19-21 for a trio of game. SMU will play its conference home opener on January 2 against Alaska.

“It’s going to be painful in that opening stretch,” Landon said about his young Saints team. “It was painful in that opening stretch at South Puget Sound. We had to be bad at South Puget Sound before we got good. We had to go through (a re-building process at Saint Martin’s) at some point, but it’s going to be really special around here once we get through it.”

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