Q&A with Coach Bob Burton

Cal State Fullerton men's basketball head coach Bob Burton answers questions about Bobby Brown, recruiting, zone defense, uptempo offense, more Bobby Brown and just about anything else Titan basketball related.

TitanCentral.com: The biggest surprise on the court this season has to be the play of freshman point guard Bobby Brown. First, how did you get this kid and second, did you think he would be this good, this fast?

Coach Bob Burton: To answer the first part, Jason Levy is the guy who got him. We knew we needed another point because we didn't have one and we really wanted to recruit a freshman. With a freshman coming in, realistically you'd think that Zakee [Smith] would be our starting point guard and the freshman could play a little and develop.

We watched him play early. As soon as I got the job Jason told me about this kid and then I started watching him play and I thought, "Geez, this kid is really good." He kind of slipped through the cracks a little bit. So we just started recruiting him really hard. We followed him all around the AAU deals. Every time he played, I was there. When he played in Las Vegas, same thing there, he was just really visible to us.

He was then on his way to Portland. Portland and NAU were the two teams who were really leading on this. I think Long Beach State was trying to get him to walk on. So we were just able to convince him to come to Fullerton, you know, playing in Southern California, great opportunity to play ... He could see, in time, that he could be the guy here with a chance to really develop. We really worked hard on recruiting him and convinced him to stay home.

The second part of your question, "Did I ever anticipate him being this good this early?" We thought in time he was definitely an All-League player but I didn't feel he would develop so quickly. I think the reason he has, outside of his ability, is he's gotten such a good opportunity to play.

A lot of other programs, where they have established point guards, he's probably only playing a few minutes or might even redshirt. In our situation, he got a great opportunity to play and game after game he has stepped up and delivered and really earned the right to start.

TitanCentral.com: And to be fair to Zakee, beating him out was no easy task, right?

Coach Burton: Right. And even when he was beating out Zakee in the beginning, I had a long talk with him. We really wanted Zakee to have the position. LB was fine, he was great about that. He didn't say, "Oh, I want to start," and all that stuff. So that was the whole plan but then when he kept playing, he was playing so good. It was unfair to LB and it was unfair to the team to not give him the opportunity to start.

TitanCentral.com: So it's now pretty much his job to lose from here on out?

Coach Burton: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, just his scoring. He's leading the Big West in three's and he doesn't turn it over much. He's still got a lot to learn. I think he takes great shots, that's not a problem. I want to see how's he going to be when the shots not falling, how is that going to effect him? We talked today about this, he's got to work on his leadership ... but these things will come, he's just a young kid.

TitanCentral.com: Lots of innuendo on the message boards about this. Is LB shooting too much?

Coach Burton: No, not at all. In fact we are putting more stuff in for him because we need more outside shooting, especially from him. He's really productive. So I like that. The only thing I want to see from him is develop more as a point guard. You know, running your team and more feistiness which are the things I am working with him on. He's a great prospect for us, there's no doubt about that.

TitanCentral.com: Sorry to dwell on Bobby Brown so much but it's not every year we get a player like him. Last question about him I promise. How in the world did Long Beach not give him a scholarship?

Coach Burton: Well, I really don't even know who they've got [at point guard]. I just knew the situation was they wanted him to walk on. Honestly, I can see how he could slip through the cracks. Playing at Westchester High School where there are so many other players. I think he's shooting and scoring more here than he did over at Westchester.

That's the way we have to recruit here. We need to go out and find those guys and they're out there.

I think the two high school kids we signed early, Ceylon Taylor and Ephraim Williams, they are in the same boat as he is, believe it or not. They're at that level. So I think we're on the right track with these young kids.

TitanCentral.com: While we're on the subject of recruiting, can you comment on the other signings.

Coach Burton: The two JC kids we recruited [Justin Burns and Derek Quinet], the thing that's so attractive about both of them is they are really like they are out of high school because both have three years of eligibility. We are trying to get caught up with that 8 and 5 rule. If you just bring in JC guys with two years, you'll never get it done. Once a kid's been there more than two years, they are not counted anymore and you have that scholarship again. We also need to get one more big guy.

TitanCentral.com: Well, this is exactly what you told us from the beginning, even before you were hired, so it's good to see things working out from a recruiting standpoint. Back to this year's team. It's great to see David Warsaw back. Is he close to 100% now?

Coach Burton: No, he's still not healthy. Watching him out there, it's painful.

TitanCentral.com: Really? We thought he looked pretty good out there.

Coach Burton: No, he's having a hard time. It's a high ankle sprain and sometimes those things take months. It's just like that big lineman from USC, Matt Grootegood, he has the exact same injury and he's been out going on three months now. Our trainers say it's serious. Right now, it's to where he can play and he's not in any pain or anything, but it's still not where he can jump off it very well. He wants to play and he has a really great attitude about it.

TitanCentral.com: Can't remember the last time the Titans led the Big West in scoring, rebounding or assists ever, let alone all at the same time.

Coach Burton: It's amazing looking at those stats because I don't think we run our stuff that good and I don't think we run our break very well and then I see those stats and I'm thinking, "That's not even as much as I want to run."

TitanCentral.com: What are some of the surprises to Division I basketball you didn't anticipate when you accepted this job back in May?

Coach Burton: The thing that amazes me most is how much you get screwed by the officials. I am just dumbfounded. And you know what is amazing is I know a lot of these guys. I grew up with all these guys who were at the JC level and are now in the Pac-10. It's now like, they all have short memories. I think that's the biggest thing. I'm just dumbfounded on how one-sided officials can be on the road.

I'm also dumbfounded on how it doesn't seem like it's that way when we are at our place [laughs]. Maybe that's my own bias but I don't ever see us getting the homer calls. Maybe it's because of my lack of knowing these guys.

See, the whole thing is so screwed up because when you go play on the road you get their officials and those officials are rated by the coaches in those conferences. So when we go to play at Arizona State, they don't care what I think of them.

That's why I really like what [college] football is doing. I want to try to do this when we negotiate contracts. Let us at least bring one of our officials just to get some balance.

TitanCentral.com: Anything else?

Coach Burton: I don't know if it's really related to Division I basketball or not but it's losing 4 to 5 starters before I even walk in the gym. I think that was the biggest shock. Losing Ralphy [Holmes] and Fedi [Holm-Hadulla] and Bron [Groomes] and Jamal [Forcheney]. I guess you can even throw Ronald Allen in there. You are looking at five kids who were in our program, and four of them started at some point last year, and one of them, people tell me, was one of the best players in the conference.

I really got a feel for how good Ralphy Holmes was when I looked at all the coaches and they knew he was gone as there was a sigh of relief on their faces. I never saw him play but that was good because people say if I knew what I lost I would be depressed.

But I am really happy with the effort of the kids I currently have.

TitanCentral.com: Most fans are simply ecstatic about this years offense, especially after what we went through last year. Is this what you had envisioned when you came to Fullerton? Any adjustments have you had to make to gear it towards this team?

Coach Burton: It's pretty much what I had envisioned but I actually envisioned it to be run a lot better. I am really disappointed with our fast break and I'm really disappointed with our half-court offense. I'm disappointed with our defense.

Maybe I shouldn't be because I've had so many obstacles to run through. You know, the typical thing where you haven't coached these guys and they didn't know you already. It was really starting from scratch on everything. Maybe I'm a little too hard on them.

I really expect us to execute everything better, the fast break, etc. It's just that I've always liked to play uptempo and will always continue to play that way but I think it should be even better than it is. I know how these plays are supposed to be run and we're missing a screen here or the timing is off, and so forth.

However, I am really happy with the way we are shooting the ball. That was a real concern at the beginning. Our teams have always shot it pretty good because they play together. You just don't see guys dribbling around and cranking shots up.

TitanCentral.com: Speaking of that, shooting from the outside during the last four games has been amazing. Are we really this good of an outside shooting team (52%, 48.6% from 3's)? Do you think it can continue?

Coach Burton: That's a tough call. When teams start really preparing for you during league everything changes. Everybody gets to know you and you play everyone twice. I think our shooting percentage could actually continue to rise because it's not that good overall. Obviously our free throw percentage will continue to rise. The thing I am more concerned with is getting our defense straightened away.

TitanCentral.com: I know when you took this job you were planing to play primarily man-to-man defense. What are the reasons for settling in on a 2-3 zone for the majority of games so far this season??

Coach Burton: I'll tell you right now, the main one is fouls. I didn't like going to places like Northern Arizona and Arizona State and looking at Pape Sow sitting next to me with four fouls. Someone told me a long time ago you're really stupid if your best players are sitting on the bench at the end of a game. I think there's a lot of truth to that.

Look at Sacramento State and that loss there. Why did we lose that game? Both our wings had fouled out. There's Anthony Bolton sitting next to me. Derick Andrew sitting next to me. They both fouled our before the overtime. Of course David Warsaw wasn't playing at that time and we didn't have any depth.

The zone defense limits our fouls. I think too, a lot of teams can't really attack a zone or don't shoot against a zone very well. We'll play man when we have to. When we played NAU at our place we knew there was no way we could zone them so we manned them for 40 minutes. At Pepperdine we started out in man-to-man and we were awful. Then we got in that zone and it changed things around.

When you play against zones, those teams have to show a lot of patience. That's what scared me about playing Eastern Washington because they are so well-coached and their makeup is so good, I didn't think we could zone them that much. I thought we would have to get out of the zone and play man-to-man, but we didn't.

TitanCentral.com: So if EWU started hitting those shots again in the second half like they did in the first half you were prepared to go to man-to-man?

Coach Burton: Oh yeah. We worked a lot in practice on our man-to-man. I think a zone is pretty good for us, with our personnel. Last year at Fresno, we probably played 98% of man. My last year at West Valley, we played 100% zone and the year before we played all man, so, depending on what our depth is and those types of thing s ... we'll be in a lot of zone this year. I think we'll learn to play it and play it pretty good.

TitanCentral.com: Early in the season you said this team has no identity. Has this changed yet?

Coach Burton: It's getting a little bit better. I would have to say our identity right now is that we play really hard and we play together. As I said before I don't see us as a great execution team yet, I don't see us as a great defensive team and I don't see us as a great scoring team.

A lot of coaches would think we run a lot of good stuff but I don't think they know what we really are trying to do. I do think our kids play hard and they play together.

TitanCentral.com: What's the latest word on Bron Groomes? Can he practice and will he be able to play this season?

Coach Burton: We're going to be in a dilemma where we can bring him back in a couple weeks and he can play but what kind of shape is he going to be in? Or do you sit him out and you go for it and try to redshirt him? He's already used his redshirt year so we would have to petition the NCAA and wouldn't know until September if he was eligible or not. It's a crap-shoot.

TitanCentral.com: Correct me if I'm wrong but it seems like we turn the ball over the most in forcing it down low to Pape. What can Pape do to free himself up or does the problem begin with the passing?

Coach Burton: You hit it right on the head. It's an automatic when the ball goes in there he's got three outlet options to pass. Whoever feeds him the ball automatically goes to the baseline corner and then everybody fills into a two-guard front so he's always got two passes he can make. The problem with Pape is he holds on to the ball too long.

You watch those guys at the next level and they catch it and they are doubled, that ball comes right back out. He just has a hard time identifying what's going on so it's like an endless process with him. And he draws a lot of attention. He's going to get double-teamed, triple teamed. Most teams are just going to swarm him.

Even so, I wouldn't be surprised if he ends up leading the country in field goal percentage. He's really a great kid. He wants to learn and do all that stuff.

TitanCentral.com: What's the word on Zakee Smith? Will he be playing anytime soon?

Coach Burton: This has been very tough for him and I understand that. It's very difficult when you are a fifth year senior and a freshman comes out and is starting. Zakee is now showing a tremendous attitude in practice and he understands where he is on the team and his attitude has been terrific. And he's getting better. He's actually starting to play a little bit better.

TitanCentral.com: Can you give us an explanation on why he hasn't played in the last couple games?

Coach Burton: I think he just questioned whether he wanted to continue to play and he said he wasn't feeling good. I think he's coming around and he's starting to do a lot better job. I'm really happy with his effort now.

TitanCentral.com: It's good to hear he has decided to stick with it. We really need him if we are going to be successful this year. Well coach, that wraps it up. Thank you for taking time to talk Titans. Hopefully we can do this again in a month or so.

Coach Burton: My pleasure. It's been great talking to you.

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