MORAGA -- Center Brad Waldow became an Internet sensation last March for a video clip that had little to do with his strong play for the Saint Mary's College men's basketball team.
The Gaels were in a tight contest with San Diego during the West Coast Conference tournament in Las Vegas when Waldow took an elbow to the mouth while going for a rebound, knocking out one of his front teeth.
The 6-foot-9 center bolted to the bench where the television cameras caught Randy Bennett's hilarious reaction when Waldow tried to hand his head coach the tooth and stay in the game.
Waldow is again making a name for himself in the early part of this season, but this time it has everything to do with his play on the court.
During the Gaels' impressive 5-0 start, the junior leads the team in scoring and rebounding. He scored a career-high 28 points in the season-opener against Louisiana Tech then tallied a double-double to go along with five blocks in Saint Mary's closest game so far, a 67-63 win over Drake on Nov. 16.
"I've just felt a lot more comfortable out there and as a team we are jelling," said Waldow, who is averaging 17.5 points and 7.6 rebounds.
One of just two remaining starters from last season's NCAA tournament squad, Waldow has scored in double figures in each of the Gaels' five wins.
He performed well during Saint Mary's summer tour to Australia, and the confidence he gained during that stretch playing against grown men carried over to this season.
"He's surprised me a little bit," Bennett said. "I thought he improved. I didn't realize he improved this much.
"For me, without a doubt, he's made a significant jump."
Waldow had one of the highest field goal percentages in the WCC last year, thanks in part to point guard Matthew Dellavedova. Considered one of the Gaels' all-time greats, Dellavedova, who is now with the Cleveland Cavaliers, made life easier for Waldow, putting the ball right where he wanted it.
"Off the pick-and-roll he'd just throw it right at the basket and I could just make an easy three-foot shot," Waldow said. "I had to work on my game a lot during the summer -- on post moves 8-10 feet off the basket and creating my own shots."
He also worked to get "in the best shape of my life," knowing he'd be counted on to play more minutes.
When Bennett recruited Waldow out of Ponderosa High in Shingle Springs, he didn't see a future star.
"I thought he was a body that was hard to get and we needed one of those in our program at the time," Bennett said. "I didn't know he'd turn in to a scorer like he has."
Waldow redshirted as a true freshman, then grabbed hold of a starting role about 10 games into his redshirt freshman campaign. He's been a fixture in the lineup ever since.
It's fitting that Waldow is known around the college basketball world for the entertaining tooth incident. Not only is he tough -- he finished the San Diego game before heading to a late-night dentist appointment to reinsert his tooth -- he's also one of the biggest characters on the team.
"Just look at his outfits," Bennett said. "He's just a carefree, fun guy. He's not afraid to be goofy, he's not afraid to put himself out there. He doesn't have a cool jacket on."
And these days you probably won't catch him without a mouth guard on, either.
"Last week I cracked (the tooth) again in practice, but not nearly as bad," Waldow said. "Coach Bennett says I can't come on the floor without a mouthpiece now."