Coach Bob Burton sat down with TitanCentral.com recently for an exclusive interview where we discuss this past year, the players who made the season possible, recruiting, schedules, contracts and what's in store for next season.
TitanCentral.com: Losing Ralphy and Clemmons late definitely hurt the team. How is Clemmons? How is he doing and how long will it take to get him back to 100%?
Coach Burton: He seems to be doing fine but we don't know ... he had a screw inserted into his foot and he goes to the doctor in about two more weeks and they'll take a look at it and see how much it's healed. Hopefully he's going to get his cast off at that time and he'll be able to start walking on it.
It's the same injury that Jamaal Brown had to be honest. The only difference is Jamaal did his about now while John did his before the Oregon State game so he's had a lot more time. We hope he's going to be back to playing in the Say No league in the summer which will be really important for him.
TitanCentral.com: You have stated you had heard a lot about Ralphy but had never actually seen him in action until this season. TitanCentral.com has stated on the record Ralphy was the most exciting player to ever play in a Titans' uniform. Just one question: Did Sensational live up to all the hype?
Coach Burton: And more. Absolutely. Even the other day, he asked coach Levy, "Does coach Burton realize how good I am now?" He was even more of a joy to coach than I could imagine. With his attitude, even more so with the way he is with his teammates. The team loved him. And I've never seen a guy go as hard as he does.
I talked about that at the banquet. We were going through a walk-through and he's going through a wall. I've never seen a kid who can go one speed like that.
What amazes me about him is his limited basketball background. Here's a kid that didn't play four years of high school, one year at a JC but where did he learn how to play? He was absolutely phenomenal.
The only regret I have about Ralphy is I would love to have had him that first year. That would have made a huge difference, right off the bat, how this program would have turned around. Instead of 11 wins, I think you can realistically look at four or five more wins easily. He and Pape would have been pretty entertaining.
TitanCentral.com: What are Ralphy's plans now?
Coach Burton: Actually, he was invited to attend the NIT All-Star game (held this past weekend). They invite the top seniors. We thought he could play but it turns out he wasn't ready. I told him, and Pape Sow also called and told him, "Whatever you do, don't go back there and play unless you are a hundred percent. It's going to be loaded with European and NBA scouts and you don't need to go in there and look like crap."
So he really took that advice. On the brighter side they ended up taking Yaphett King. So they still took a Cal State Fullerton guy which is great.
TitanCentral.com: Does he have enough units to graduate after this semester?
Coach Burton: No, but you know what he's doing a great job their too and that was another reason we were concerned. We didn't want him missing anymore class. He'll be short units on graduation.
In defense of him however, he had a Wednesday night class that met once a week. With the Big West Tournament, going to Oregon State and USF, all in a row, so the professor just said there is no way he could miss that many classes and he had to drop the class.
He's doing okay on this, he really is. It's really important, for us, for him to be eligible, because if he didn't go to school, we'd lose a scholarship with this new NCAA ruling. If he passes all his classes right now I believe he's going to need two classes in the summer and one might even be a class he can take online.
We have to be very realistic, however, that once he gets healthy, he's going to get an agent and then he's going to go to the NBA camps and see what he can do there or he's going to go to Europe.
TitanCentral.com: Let's talk more about the team. What were some of the biggest adjustments you and the other coaches had to make?
Coach Burton: The biggest one was the fast-break. We junked the one we used before because we didn't feel we had any low-post guys who could really get to the block.
We made the break about as loose as we could and with as few rules as we could. Different guys could now handle the ball in the middle versus, in the old break, only the point guard could handle the ball in the middle. Didn't happen that often as most of the time it went to the one. We weren't so concerned with guys getting to the blocks, we weren't so concerned about trailer jump-shots. That was the biggest thing.
TitanCentral.com: So next year will you be going back to your more traditional fast-break style?
Coach Burton: We'll go back to it a little but not too much. I like this style. I really like watching these kids play with this kind of freedom. But with Gary Nunez, you got a guy who can really score inside. He's going to want to get down there and get into the block and I think Jamaal Brown can do a better job on that. We'll have big guys who can trail it and shoot it now ...
I think we are going to try and do the same kind of concepts but if it's not there, instead of such quick shots, we'll try to show a little more patience in trying to get the ball inside to those big guys as they get down there.
TitanCentral.com: Okay, so the season ends and it's now time to start thinking about next year but then the Fresno State job opens up and you are considered a strong candidate. You seemed luke-warm about the opening. Then, what seems like out of nowhere, Brian Quinn's alma mater Loyola Marymount tries to steal you away with a lot more cash and a lot more resources but you simply say no. What happened?
Coach Burton: Well, I got a call from Loyola's athletic director and he asked me if I would come over there and talk to him about the job. I really didn't know how interested I was. The salary, at that time that LMU was talking, was probably about $100,000 more than I was making at Fullerton.
So I was kind of intrigued by that a little bit (laughs) but I really didn't want to leave. I really like the kids we have coming back, I like the recruits we have coming in. I truly, honestly appreciated the fact that Fullerton went out on a limb and hired me. And all of those things really matter to me.
I think next year could be a good year again, I don't know if it will be as good as this year, but it's going to be good. And I think the following year it's going to really be good because now you have them all back and the new kids will have had a year under their belts.
So I went into Brian Quinn's office and told him, "Here's the deal, they want to talk to me. If you can do this for my assistants plus the extension and obviously there was a salary raise involved, but not a huge jump, but some. If you can do those things than I won't even talk to them." And they jumped right on it.They put together a contract for exactly what I ask for so I went in and signed the contract.
Then I called the AD up at Loyola and said I was going to stay. I could tell he was kind of disappointed but we had never really had any conversations or anything up to that point. The next day he called me up and offers me the job for even more money than the original rate.
Money, honestly, it's important but it's not the most important thing for me. I'm not a move-around guy and I like where I'm at and I really want to stay for the reasons I stated earlier. So I turned that down and said, "Thanks a million but I'm really not interested."