Ailene Voisin

Opinion: Ponderosa High grad Brad Waldow standing out for Saint Mary’s

Ponderosa product Brad Waldow leads Saint Mary’s in scoring and rebounding.
Ponderosa product Brad Waldow leads Saint Mary’s in scoring and rebounding. The Associated Press

Brad Waldow stands 6-foot-10 and weighs 270 pounds, but he still sneaks up on people. The Saint Mary’s forward leads the Gaels in scoring and rebounding and, in his fifth season, is luring NBA scouts and trekkers down the winding roads, off the gritty beaten path of Interstate 680, and onto the gorgeous, leafy campus 20 miles east of San Francisco.

Suddenly, the curious are seeking a closer peek: Who is this gangly player from Shingle Springs, the one who received few scholarship offers while attending Ponderosa High School, and yet who quietly, stubbornly and persistently is nearing his lofty personal and professional goals.

When he was a youngster, Waldow said, he wanted to be Vlade Divac. Now he wants to be the next DeMarcus Cousins, or more accurately, Cousins’ backup on the Kings.

“I am a diehard Kings fan and Cousins is my favorite player in the NBA,” Waldow, who averages 19.9 points and 9.7 rebounds, said after a recent practice in McKeon Pavilion. “I love his passion, how skilled he is, his dribbling, his athleticism. He is someone I am trying to emulate.”

As the Gaels enjoy another successful season (17-4), with perennial power Gonzaga again the major obstacle to a West Coast Conference title and automatic NCAA postseason berth, coach Randy Bennett leans heavily on his best frontcourt player since Omar Samhan graduated in 2010.

Bennett projects Waldow as a better athlete and defender, as a possible second-round pick, but suggested his power forward would be equally comfortable in Europe. The longtime head coach described Waldow as college basketball’s Renaissance man, and with a grin and a shake of the head said his player’s main issue has been an unwillingness to wrap his arms exclusively around a basketball.

Waldow is quite the character. With an easy, delightful manner, he recited details of his life as if reading from a book. He was adopted as an infant and has never met his birth parents. When his adopted parents divorced while he was in high school, he moved in with his best friend’s family. His interests are varied and diverse: He speaks Spanish fluently and converses easily with his girlfriend’s parents, who are Italian. He socializes with wrestlers and football players and is an avid fan of mixed martial arts.

Without prompting, Waldow provided a critique of Urijah Faber – referring to Faber as “The California Kid” – and rated T.J. Dillashaw as a rising star. He also obsesses about music and admitted that, during his boyhood, he couldn’t resist the large piano in the family room.

“I taught myself how to read music, how to play the piano,” he said. “Then my parents enrolled me in band, and I learned how to play the trumpet. My best friend, Kenny Steers, had a clarinet and a saxophone, so I learned to play those instruments, too. If you let me listen to a song and give me 20 or 30 minutes, I can play anything on the piano.”

Asked how he balances his interests, Waldow laughed. He keeps moving, tinkering, learning. He earned a degree in business and is working on a master’s in leadership, but after last season, he said, he made a conscious decision to maximize his basketball abilities, beginning with a physical makeover.

Not unlike Cousins, his long-distance mentor, Waldow struggles with conditioning. He gained a whopping 30 pounds in 2013-14, with most of the weight packed around his midsection and thighs, and it affected his mobility. At Bennett’s behest, he altered his diet and engaged in a rigorous conditioning program.

The changes are reflected in both his appearance and on-court effectiveness. Waldow, who has long arms, is quicker than he appears. He was a sprinter in middle school and ran a 5-minute, 35-second mile during preseason drills.

On the court, his movements are more fluid, particularly from the left side. A solid defender throughout his college career, Waldow’s favorite offensive move is to turn into the middle, then attempt a right-handed half hook or a pass to an open teammate or cutter under the basket.

“We need Brad in the post,” Bennett said. “We need him rebounding. We don’t have him shooting the mid-range shot, but he can learn, and he is a very good passer.

“The deal with him is … we ask him to do the impossible. He takes a beating down there. We need him to sustain this level of productivity. Are there things he can do better? He can still get in better condition. But look at where we are.”

Call The Bee’s Ailene Voisin, (916) 321-1208.