STOCKTON -- Tony Gill was suddenly a man without an identity.
The Pacific forward had to replace his No. 33 jersey which had blood on it with a clean No. 25 during Saturdays game against Pepperdine. It was the only uniform without a name on the back, prompting a fan to ask, Who the heck is that? Said a fan next to him: Thats Gill, with the best nickname here.
See, it didnt much matter that Gills name wasnt on his jersey because most Pacific fans know the 6-foot-8senior as The Big Smooth.
Everything Gill does appears effortless. The forward from Oakmont High School and Cosumnes River College glides more than he grinds. Hes sneaky quick down the lane or working the baseline. He posts up without grunts. He zips around screens and pulls up for top-of-the-key 3-pointers. And his teammates say he never sweats.
The running joke along media row during Saturdays game was Gill could add a new nickname, The Surgeon, because of how he efficiently slices through teams and because thats his career goal. Gill had 17 points, including two 3-pointers, to key UOPs Pacifics 76-66 victory over Pepperdine in a West Coast Conference game.
Seated a few feet away, behind the scorers table, Pacific fans regularly shouted, Go get em, Dr. Gill!
Hes unbelievable, a pleasure to coach and a pleasure to watch, said Ron Verlin, a Del Oro and Sacramento State graduate in his first season as Pacifics coach. The Big Smooth does what he does, and thats a lot. I hope he keeps rolling. We need him.
Last season, his first at Pacific, Gill was the Big West Tournament MVP after averaging 15.3 points in three games to lead the Tigers to the title in their final season in the conference. This season, Gill is averaging 10.8 points for the Tigers, who are 11-8 overall and 2-6 in the highly competitive WCC.
Gill has observed genuine heartache and sadness in hospital rooms, so he never gets down about his play on the court. At this time next year, he could either be in medical school or playing professionally overseas.
I grew up wanting to be a surgeon, Gill said. I grew up around medicine because I have so many in my family who are doctors. And I want to help people. But Ill find out if thats what I want to do in the next year or so.
Gill paused and continued, Ive seen both sides in a lot of hospital tours, shadowing family. You see some people who have only a couple of more days to live. Some have their lives taken away in a split second, and theyre dying, or theyre ill with cancer. So I appreciate life, good health, what we have, the dream Im living. You have to live life every day. You cant mope around. As hard as this season has been at times, there are people in hospitals who would do anything to be in our situation, or just to walk.
Gill said he has much in common with his coach. Theyre both Placer County guys who embrace their roots, and they mirror each other in their positive attitudes. While Gill is enjoying his final season, Verlin has run the full emotional gamut as a first-year head coach.
For the previous 19 seasons, Verlin was an assistant at Pacific, a position without the burden of expectations that were shouldered by head coach Bob Thomason, who in 25 years had the most wins in Big West history (414) and reached the NCAA Tournament five times.
Thomason retired after last season, and Verlin landed his dream job.
Theres not a man anywhere who deserved this job more than Ron, Gill said. No one works harder. Hes consistent, with no hidden secrets, and with him, youll get great energy every day.
Verlin said the rigors of the season have caused him togain weight and lose hair, but Im hooked. This is what we do.
We got off to a great start and then hit a lull, he said The WCC is good. We got smacked a few times, our bells rung. Were fighting through it.
Basketball is a family tradition for Verlin. He speaks several times a week to twin brother Don, Idahos coach. The brothers grew up on a Loomis ranch with parents Bob and Bonnie. They played basketball together at Del Oro and were co-coaches for the Del Oro freshmen in 1987 while still in college. Their father died of cancer in 2005. Their mother lives in Arizona and regularly watches games on TV.
We never had a master plan in high school to get here, but we figured a way to get it done, and its been great, Verlin said, adding a moment later as Gill walked by, and this is why we do this.
Follow Joe Davidson on Twitter @SacBee_JoeD and listen to his Extra Point every Wednesday on ESPN Radio 1320.