Saint Mary's forward Brad Waldow's game has bite

(USATSI)
It’s hard not to notice St. Mary’s senior forward Brad Waldow on the court. (USATSI)

Not everyone knows about Saint Mary’s fifth-year senior forward Brad Waldow, the only player in the nation averaging at least 20 points and 10 rebounds per game.

And many of those who are familiar with the Gaels’ big man, may have first noticed him because of his mouth.

No, the 6-foot-10 Waldow isn’t a trash-talker or a player who says outlandish things for attention -- he's actually extremely thoughtful and chooses his words carefully. But Waldow’s mouth -- not the words coming out of it -- is what first got others to start talking about him.

When he was a sophomore, Waldow received an elbow to the face in a WCC tournament semifinal game vs. San Diego, which knocked out his front tooth. Waldow then proceeded to pick up the tooth, try to hand it to SMC coach Randy Bennett, stop the bleeding and stay in the game which was eventually won by the Gaels in overtime thanks to Waldow’s 23 points and 16 rebounds. It was a gritty, breakthrough performance almost overshadowed by the video showing Bennett staying as far away from Waldow's tooth as possible. 

The resulting surgery that occurred afterward led Waldow to making the decision to wear a mouthpiece every game. Wanting one that could fit both his mouth and his personality, Waldow chose something he saw while watching UFC fights: a memorable mouthpiece that makes him look like he's a vampire.

"My family and I are super into the UFC," Waldow told CBSSports.com. "One of the fighters (Andrei Arlovski) -- he's like this Russian guy and he had these vampire fangs. And I always just thought they were super cool. The guy looked cool anyway because he had this big mountain man beard and long hair, but then he had these fangs. So I thought it would be cool, but also UFC fighters are extremely great athletes that fight for their lives for five minute rounds and this mouthpiece allows them to breath at an elite level of fighting."

While Waldow's mouth has gotten most of the attention in the past, it could be his play that gets him noticed in the future. He is the key cog right now on a Gaels' team that is 7-0 in the WCC and heads into Spokane, Wash. on Thursday to face off against No. 3 Gonzaga, which also has a 7-0 conference record. Waldow's stats (20.6 points, 10.1 rebounds and 2.4 assists per game) and the Gaels' success should be enough to get him into discussion for the All-American team by themselves, but it's his efficiency marks that truly place him among the elite in college basketball.

  • First and foremost, Saint Mary's plays at a very slow pace. Its unadjusted tempo of 63.8 possessions per game ranks them 281st nationally, which is in the bottom 20 percent of the country. So, if anything, Waldow is getting fewer possessions per game to put up his numbers. 
  • That means he has to put up points through purely efficient play, which he seems to be accomplishing with ease. His 60.7 true-shooting percentage is in the top-13 percent of all eligible players nationally, and is seventh out of the 86 players that have a usage rate of at least 29 percent. That makes him one of the most efficient high-volume scorers in all of the country. 
  • Those numbers don't even take into account his best skill though, which is his rebounding ability. Waldow has a defensive rebounding rate of 23.5, which is in the top-three percent of the country, and an offensive rebounding rate of 12.6, which is in the top five percent nationally. 
  • Basically, that makes him a dominant per-possession force that is carrying Saint Mary's toward a possible NCAA berth. Plus, he's doing it in a league that is currently the highest-ranked conference outside of the Power 5 plus the Big East, according to KenPom. Yes, while the WCC has traditionally been known as a mid-major league, it's grown up this year and is actually rated ahead of the Atlantic-10, American, Mountain West and Missouri Valley. So strength of schedule really shouldn't be counted against him this season. 

All of this is not bad for a kid that didn't really start playing competitive basketball until the eighth grade. Back then, the basketball player who is now known for his big frame was a soccer player that had just had knee surgery. 

"I didn't always have a huge body type like I do now," Waldow said. "I used to be super skinny, but then I got knee surgery in seventh grade and ballooned up. I was like 6-foot, but I was 270 pounds."

After he started playing basketball, he spent the whole first summer doing two-a-days with his AAU coach, and carefully watching what he ate to drop 50 pounds and get back to a normal size. Then, throughout his sophomore season, he grew from about 6-foot-2 to 6-foot-7, which made him a legitimate high school basketball force. During his senior season, he averaged 26 points and 11 rebounds per game for Ponderosa High School in Shingle Springs, Calif. But just like today, those numbers didn't make him a highly sought-after player. In fact, Waldow was considering a collegiate path that would lead him toward becoming a doctor. 

That was before Bennett and Saint Mary's came along. Waldow's story immediately resonated with the coach, who mentioned that the stories of recruits are as important to him as the talent. 

"I like guys that are underdogs with a little bit of a chip on their shoulder, guys who are appreciative," Bennett told CBSSports.com. "Brad was all that. He was pure. He hadn't been tainted or poisoned by recruiting. He didn't have to deal with being ranked this or that."

Waldow's first season in Moraga went about as expected for an unheralded freshman from a small high school. Despite the fact that he wanted to play early, Waldow ended up redshirting that season. But instead of sulking, Waldow took advantage of his season off. 

"I ended up redshirting, which was a blessing in disguise," Waldow said. "A lot of people don't take advantage of their redshirt year because they sulk and get upset. I came in and was probably about 6-8 and didn't have any muscle to me whatsoever. I was pretty chubby, and had the baby fat still. That year, I got extremely strong. I was probably in the weight room as much as I was on the basketball floor."

That talk of transforming his body was an interesting point, as Waldow still doesn't have what would be referred to as a "traditional" body type for a Division I player. While it's clear that he's extremely strong and has great soft hands with nimble, quick feet from his soccer days, his torso is still extremely thick and keg-shaped. 

"I do have a different body type," Waldow said. "Like, I have a really big chest compared to a lot of other basketball players so it looks like I'm top heavy, but my body is actually very proportional. I don't see it as a problem, but when a lot of people look at me they assume I'm slow or unathletic. But when I play against them, it actually helps me out a lot because it helps me bang against guys that are bigger than me.

"People throughout my career would tell me 'you're out of shape, you're not a basketball player, you're not athletic.' Well, for our conditioning this year I ran a 5:42 mile. I feel like you have to be some sort of athlete to run a 5:42 mile."

That level of conditioning has helped Waldow blossom from the player that he was when he first arrived in Moraga into the star he has become this year. In his first two seasons, he played pick-and-roll partner for current Cleveland Cavaliers' point guard Matthew Dellavedova. Then last season, he became more of a post threat, scoring 15 points and grabbing 7.5 rebounds per game. That level of production led to him being named All-WCC. However, he became tired near the end of last season, and was up to nearly 300 pounds by the time March rolled around. That, along with another moment, led to the hoops junkie making an even larger commitment to his conditioning before this season.

"I was watching the NBA Summer League, and they would speak to some of the players about what they did for the draft and summer league," Waldow said. "One of the players mentioned 'Yeah, I got in the best shape of my life so I'm ready for the draft.' Then, one the announcers said 'What doesn't make sense to me is these college kids go through the whole college season then after college they get into better shape than they were in college. Why wouldn't you just get into the best shape of your life in college so you don't have to do all of that for the NBA Summer League?' Right when I heard that, everything just resonated with me. I could be in great shape for college basketball, so I can have an even better season and then not have to do all of the extra work afterward as well."

So far, that level of conditioning is holding true. Waldow is now doing extra conditioning on off days in order to keep himself around the 265-270 pound mark that he starts every season at, and it's allowing him to have a higher level of cardio both when running the floor and attacking the board. That should allow him to better sustain his level of production as the season goes on.

And assuming that production does sustain, the Gaels will have a really good shot of making the NCAA Tournament. If they get that far, Waldow will almost certainly be on the short list to be selected for the All-American team -- which is something that hasn't happened at Saint Mary's since 1961, although Matthew Dellavedova, Mickey McConnell and Omar Samhan came close as honorable mentions. 

"Could he be worthy of that honor?" Bennett wondered. "If we won enough. If we're able to win at a really high level, it wouldn't be something out of the question if a guy goes 20 and 10 on a high mid-major that won a lot."

Even if it does seem to be a long shot that Waldow ends up being bestowed that honor, it's truly incredible that we're at this point where he needs to be considered for it.

Not bad for a lightly-recruited, vampire mouthpiece-wearing forward with a non-traditional body type who nearly chose becoming a doctor over a future in basketball.

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