Santa Clara ready to take next step

SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- Santa Clara finished this season with an 11-21 record, making it 14 years since Steve Nash roamed the campus and the Broncos last went to the NCAA tournament.

But Wednesday, the program proudly opened its doors to the public for a meet-and-greet with players and coaches. And for those who couldn’t be there, Santa Clara has posted eight videos on YouTube to keep fans informed on what the team has been up to during the dead of spring.

Why is coach Kerry Keating so willing to showcase a program that hasn’t had a winning record in his three seasons?

“You would think a team that went 35-3 would be doing that,” Keating said. “I feel like our program can make a step. I don’t want to wait until the fall to let everyone know.

“I want people around here to understand things are changing. We’re getting better.”

While Gonzaga has established itself as a nationally recognized powerhouse in the West Coast Conference and consistent winner Saint Mary’s is coming off a Sweet 16 appearance, Keating thinks his Broncos could be in the beginning stages of establishing something special.

Last year’s 3-11 conference record gave little hint of anything special. But the team played without a single senior and without arguably its best player. Sophomore guard Kevin Foster averaged 19.8 points per game before suffering a season-ending foot injury during a December win against UC Santa Barbara.

Santa Clara did show flashes. Keating would like to bottle up that moment at home in January when Troy Payne’s three-point play against No. 8-ranked Gonzaga put the team up by 14 with 15 minutes left to go. The young Broncos ultimately lost, but showed at least they could be a dangerous team going forward.

Now they’re returning 6-foot-9 sophomore Marc Trasolini and three freshmen that led the team in scoring, and Foster has recently been cleared to participate in workouts. A four-player recruiting class headlined by rugged 6-foot-8 forward John McArthur gives the Broncos 13 scholarship players for the first time under Keating.

Keating, 38, had long been known as a top recruiter as an assistant at UCLA and Tennessee, where he landed future NBA players Darren Collison, Kevin Love and Russell Westbrook and C.J. Watson. He hopes someone he brought in at Santa Clara can emerge as that kind of game-changer.

“I wanted to play for this guy,” said freshman guard Robert Smith, who chose Santa Clara over Cal or USC. “I believed everything he said. If I work hard, I can be the next point guard to come out of here.”

That Keating is also one of the nation’s most technologically savvy coaches has helped recruiting (Malcolm Lee committed to him and UCLA over instant messenger), and the program -- which sits in California's Silicon Valley -- is marketing itself that way.

Keating owns an iPad, snaps photos for the team’s Facebook page and is planning to hold news conferences next season on the Internet via Ustream because the team currently receives little media coverage. In April, he announced on Twitter the arrival of potential Class of 2028 recruit Jaxon Keating into the world.

Two assistants -- video coordinator Adam Bauman and director of media relations Michelle Schmitt -- have been armed with handheld video cameras to record YouTube clips of the players doing everything from practicing halfcourt shots to riding roller coasters at a community service event.

“We need to show these kids off,” assistant athletic director Jeff Mitchell said.

And if the message now is that it’s cool to be a Bronco, imagine what might happen if the wins start to come. Keating is confident that they will.

“I know who we can be if these guys are all bought in,” he said. “I’m telling you. They’re getting close.

“We’re coming back with somethin’ somethin’ next year.”