MORAGA -- The students at St. Mary's College always chant, "Aussie!, Aussie!, Aussie!, Oi!, Oi!, Oi!" whenever an Australian scores for the Gaels' men's basketball team.

They'd be hoarse if they also did that for the Aussies on Nicholls State's team.

In what is believed to be an NCAA record, a combined eight Australians will dress for St. Mary's and Nicholls State when the teams meet today at McKeon Pavilion at 1 p.m. And yes, there is a possibility of having all eight on the floor at the same time.

"I know a lot of the St. Mary's players have played with some of our guys," Colonels coach J.P. Piper said. "If not, they've certainly heard of them. It should be a neat experience."

The Gaels feature guards Patty Mills and Carlin Hughes and forward Lucas Walker, and Nicholls State has guards Anatoly Bose and Michael Czepil, centers Mitch Boyce and Dominic Friend and forward Ryan Bathie.

St. Mary's also has center Ben Allen, who is redshirting this season after transferring from Indiana. He, along with Hughes and Walker, played with Bathie as they represented Australia at the World University Games in Thailand this summer.

The number of Aussies in NCAA Division I programs has increased from fewer than 20 a decade ago to 33 today, according to aussiehoopsamerica.com. That number grows to well over 100 when you include Division II men and Division I and II women.

There are a few reasons for the increase.


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The National Basketball League of Australia isn't as financially lucrative for young players as it was more than a decade ago, and the players are finding they can get an education, often worth over $100,000, while improving their skill level and increasing their exposure.

College coaches also are becoming more receptive to recruiting Australians. And once players finish college, there are more options professionally, whether it be in the NBA, NBL or Europe.

"Back 10-15 years ago, it wasn't a huge thing to come to college. But now there's more Australians that do take that road and have success with it," said Walker, who, like Bathie and Czepil, is from Melbourne.

"Now, coaches are seeing that Australians can play, and that's opened the doors for more recruiting."

As a former player in the NBL, Gaels assistant coach David Patrick has been instrumental in recruiting several of the Australians at today's game to the United States. When he was an assistant at Nicholls State during the 2005-06 season, he recruited Czepil, Boyce, Friend and Bathie.

And when Patrick played for the NBL's Cambrea Cannons from 1999-2001, Mills was the ball boy. Patrick and his wife, Cassie, eventually developed a relationship with the Mills family.

"It's (Mills') first time away from home, and I think it was important for (his family) to be with someone they could trust," Patrick said. "They can always call, which they do. And they know that we're always going to look out for what's best for Patty."

Patrick said Australians usually earn a scholarship because of their shooting ability and solid fundamentals. Defense and ball handling skills? That takes more time.

"I'm more careful with the ball now -- look after it a lot better," said Hughes, a native of Perth. "Coach (Randy) Bennett is on our case quite a bit, structuring us up on our defense. But that helps us a lot. Compared to where I was last year to now, I think I'm a more solid player."

Players at both schools have fit in well at their new homes. Although there are cultural differences, the easygoing nature of the Australian players makes the transition much easier.

"Southern Louisiana is not unlike where they come from. Everyone's pretty happy-go-lucky and easygoing," Piper said. "They enjoy having a good time and they're not afraid to drink a beer. They kind of fit into that stereotype of Aussie life, and our community's really embraced them."

Contact Curtis Pashelka at cpashelka@bayareanewsgroup.com.