In its 3-0 start to the season, the Saint Mary's College men's basketball team has received a big lift off the bench from James Walker III.

The junior college transfer already had one happy homecoming in his young career as a Gael. Walker, a Southern California native, will try for another when Saint Mary's competes at the Anaheim Classic this weekend.

The Gaels open the tournament Thursday against Drexel (1-2) in a 1:30 p.m. game that will be televised by ESPN2.

"It will give us the best gauge yet of where we're at," said Saint Mary's coach Randy Bennett of the eight-team tournament.

As Saint Mary's aims for its third NCAA tournament bid in four years, Walker has been somewhat of a pleasant surprise. Even as a newcomer to Bennett's system, the 6-foot-3 combo guard has firmly entrenched himself in the Gaels' rotation.

"Coming in I didn't know what to expect," Walker said. "I just knew my role was to come off the bench and give the team a spark either on defense or offense or both. So far it's been going pretty well."

Walker earned Bennett's trust with strong showings in scrimmages with Stanford and Arizona State and has emerged as the Gaels' third-leading scorer at 10.7 points per game, just trailing stalwarts Matthew Dellavedova and Stephen Holt.

"This summer if you'd have told me he'd be doing this I would have been surprised," Bennett said. "He's doing a really nice job offensively."

Walker came to Saint Mary's after sharing junior college state player of the year honors at Citrus College near Los Angeles. A graduate of Los Alamitos High, Walker returned to Southern California after a year at Utah State, feeling his strengths weren't compatible with the Aggies' half-court system.

Coincidentally, Walker's first road trip as a Gael sent him back to Logan, Utah. Though the Utah State student section picked on him all night, Walker delivered a breakout performance -- 14 points, three steals and three rebounds in a 67-58 Saint Mary's victory.

"You want to know who those guys are that are going to play tough in tough situations," Bennett said. "Going into Utah State was a very tough situation for him, and he excelled."

Bennett said Walker was ahead of the curve offensively and is "a good defender that has a chance to be a great defender once he figures out our system."

Walker loves the pace the Gaels play at and enjoys playing alongside other talented guards, especially Dellavedova.

"He's a guy I can definitely learn from," Walker said. "He's got all kinds of experience, international experience, and I can learn a lot from him."

Thursday's game

Saint Mary's (3-0) vs. Drexel (1-2) at Anaheim, 1:30 p.m. ESPN2