Santa Clara basketball feeling the momentum thanks to Jalen Williams’ NBA success and Brandin Podziemski’s outstanding year


SANTA CLARA — Santa Clara’s Keshawn Justice hadn’t yet started his shooting motion when Brandin Podziemski was already identifying his path from behind the arc to get into rebounding position.

As Justice began to shoot, Podziemski’s momentum started taking him towards the glass, and as the ball took flight, Podziemski was already standing to the left of the basket.

The ball hit the rim and bounced to the left, right into his hands.

When trying to explain how Podziemski, a 6-foot-5 shooting guard, led the West Coast Conference with 8.8 rebounds per game this season, the easiest answer is pure instinct.

Santa Clara’s 23-win season, their first since 1969, came to an end on Wednesday night after a 58-56 loss to Sam Houston in the first round of the NIT Tournament, but the Broncos are still riding high with the possibility that they could have two different players selected in back-to-back NBA Drafts for the first time since it was reduced to two rounds in 1989.

After Jalen Williams was drafted No. 12 overall by the Oklahoma City Thunder last summer and put together an outstanding rookie season in which he’s averaging 13.6 points, 4.3 rebounds and 3.2 assists per game, Podziemski could be next to go.

Asked on Wednesday when he’ll make a decision about his future, Podziemski said he wasn’t yet sure, but later identified himself as a “potential NBA player.” Sports Illustrated projects Podziemski to be selected at the end of the first round or early second round if he does declare.

In 2022, Williams declared on the last day of March and then became the first Bronco to get drafted since Steve Nash was taken No. 15 overall by the Phoenix Suns in 1996.

“On so many levels, you can just see the momentum and the progress,” said coach Herb Sendek, who has led the Broncos to a 120-94 record in seven years at the helm. “We hosted a game (Wednesday) in the postseason. We’ve been to back to back postseasons. All measurements show the trajectory.”

The Broncos have now won at least 60% of their games in four straight seasons for the first time since 1963.

When they hosted Gonzaga on a Saturday in early January, they sold out the Leavey Center for the first time since before the COVID-19 pandemic.

One could credit Williams for putting the Broncos back in the national spotlight and providing a pathway for Podziemski, who transferred from the University of Illinois last May and went on to set a program record with four WCC Player of the Week honors.

In addition to leading the league in rebounding, he was third in scoring (19.9 points per game) and was one of just three Division 1 players in the country to average at least 19 points, eight rebounds and three assists per game. He was named WCC Co-Player of the Year alongside Gonzaga’s Drew Timme.

“You look at the next people coming in, it should be inspiring that you have an NBA player in Jalen who is doing so well, and me being a potential NBA player myself, it just shows the coaches know what they’re doing,” Podzmieski said. “It shows the development they put into you, that you can take that next step too.

“So for recruits coming in or guys in the portal that coaches might reach out to, I think you’ve got to look at that and say, ‘it has to be something they’re doing that’s allowing these players to be who they are.’”

Podzmieski said he could feel the buzz last weekend, when he joined Justice, a fifth-year senior, and sophomore Carlos Stewart at an event for the Special Olympics.

“It was really cool to see kids with special needs, with Down Syndrome, they know who you are and know what Bronco basketball is,” Podzmieski said. “The fact that the community knows who you are, the parents know who you are, and just how much love they have for basketball because of you — it was really cool for us to experience.”

The Broncos will have to replace Justice, who played in more games than anyone else in program history, and perhaps Podzmieski, but they could potentially retain seniors Jaden Bediako and Parker Braun, who each have a year of eligibility remaining because of the pandemic year.

The Broncos have just two high school players who have committed — guard Christian Hammond, a three-star prospect from Colorado, and center Luke McEldon, a three-star center from Massachusetts — but expect to add more via the transfer portal in the coming months.

According to on3.com, the Broncos’ two recruits give them the 109th-ranked recruiting class in the country, up from No. 151 last year.

“We’ve made progress on a lot of different levels and we’re determined to keep working to move it forward,” Sendek said. “For Keshawn and others, there are so many people who have provided the bridge we’re walking across right now.”

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