“With very guarded optimism” is how Cal State Fullerton men's basketball Coach Bob Burton is approaching the 2005- 06 season. The Titans are coming off the second-most successful year in the school's 45-year basketball history and the pieces are in place to post back-to-back winning seasons for the first time in two decades.
“We have a lot of proven players but also a lot of new faces and it will take time to blend them in,” said Burton, who in his second year guided the Titans to the best Div. I record in Southern California at 21-11, the Titans' first winning season since 1992-93. “Where the leadership will come from is the real question. We lost three tremendous seniors, not only on the court but off.
“I expect a lot to fall on Bobby Brown's shoulders. He's one of the best point guards in the West and how far we can go will probably be based more on his leadership than his playing ability.”
Gone are forwards Ralphy Holmes, Yaphett King and Hardy Asprilla. The first two seemingly willed the team to win after Asprilla was lost for the year to a knee injury on Jan. 13 in game No. 12. Holmes led the Big West Conference in scoring and rebounding and King averaged 14.7 points in BWC play as both earned second-team all-conference honors. Asprilla, who was leading the BWC in rebounding when injured, remained a vocal presence on the bench as the Titans won 13 of their final 17 games including a pair of NIT victories at Oregon State and San Francisco.
Point guard Brown (6-1, Los Angeles, Westchester HS), center Jamaal Brown (6-7, Spartanburg, SC, Western Kentucky) and shooting guard Jermaine Harper (6-3, Gardena, Virginia) are the returning starters from a resilient team that didn't get a minute from its projected starting center, lost a reserve guard in December to a reoccurrence of cancer and had only eight players in uniform for the last game of a season full of accomplishments. Bobby Brown is not your typical point guard. The junior-to-be packages a vast repertoire of offensive firepower with the normal playmaking role. He is a prolific 3-point shooter and also can attack the basket. In the Big West he was third in scoring (16.8 ppg), third in assists (4.66 apg), third in free-throw percentage (.827) and second in 3-point field goals made (2.66 pg). In only two seasons, he has CSF's second (85) and fifth-best (70) single-season totals of 3-point field goals made and his twoyear total of 155 is only 36 shy of the career mark.
Senior-to-be Jamaal Brown joined the Titans after five games and became the inside force to complement the Titans' shot-happy perimeter game. He was third in the conference in rebounding (7.6 rpg) and seventh in field-goal percentage (.496) and made three game-winning shots while averaging 12.4 points. Both Browns earned all-conference honorable mention.
Senior-to-be Harper was the only starter not to average in double figures, coming up just shy at 9.7 ppg. He was a classic streak shooter with four games of 20 or more points and nine of four points or less. Seventy percent of his shots came from behind the 3-point arc as he made 70 of 191 to match Bobby Brown for the fifth-best single-season total by a Titan. He also developed into a relentless perimeter defender.
Key reserves returning are senior point guard John Clemmons (6-0, Los Angeles, El Camino JC), junior forward Justin Burns (6-6, Birmingham, Alabama, Cypress JC), senior guard Vershan Cottrell (6-2, Renton, WA, Ohlone JC) and junior center Derek Quinet (6-9, San Jose, West Valley JC) along with lightly used forward Danny Lambert (6-4, Irvine, Irvine Valley JC). They will be joined by four redshirts, three community college transfers and two incoming freshmen.
The newcomers most likely to make an immediate impact include explosive guard Frank Robinson (6-4, 225, Los Angeles, CA), power forward Gary Nunez (6-8, Bronx, NY) and wing player Jerard Moret (6-4, Los Angeles, CA). “Those three should be huge for us,” said Burton. “Each should play a significant role.”
Robinson sat out last season after transferring from East Carolina. He is an explosive leaper and penetrator who has been quite impressive in his summer league play. He averaged 3.8 points and 1.8 rebounds in 26 games for the Pirates in 2003-04. Nunez was the Western State Conference North Division Player of the Year in 2004-05 at Ventura College. He averaged 16.5 points and 8.3 rebounds. In the state quarterfinals against eventual state champion Fresno City College he made 15 of 19 shots in a 30-point, 13-rebound losing effort. For the season he shot .645 from the floor and for his career a school record .640. His team went 24-0 in two years of North conference play.
Moret is the more advanced of a pair of new Titans from Westchester High School's latest state championship team. He is a slasher who plays great defense. Further away from helping immediately is 6-7 wing player Jerrel Lake (Los Angeles).
There is plenty of size waiting to be developed into Div. I talent. Chris Minardo (Chino Hills) is a 6-9 forward with perimeter shooting skills with three years of eligibility after a season at Citrus College. Manny Montano (Vista) is a 6-foot-10 transfer from Palomar College. They will be competing daily with redshirt centers Adam Tancredi (6-9, Santa Ana), who has two years of eligibility remaining after transferring from Quinnipiac, and Curtis Battles (6-10, Los Angeles), the 350-pound transfer from West Hills College. Guard Damien Massey (5-11, Long Beach) , who redshirted last year after walking on from Jordan High, completes a roster which also includes 4-year transfers Scott Cutley from Kent State and Ray Reed from Georgetown, who must sit out this season.
Fullerton plays only two non-conference games at home before the end of the calendar year -- vs. Hope International on Nov. 20 and vs. Pepperdine on Nov. 23. They later host UC Davis and South Dakota State to balance out eight road dates that include a Nov. 30 stop at Kansas State and tournaments in Miami and San Francisco.
Based on returning talent, the Big West Conference race appears wide open. The four teams that separated themselves from the pack last year in 18-0 league champion Pacific (lost eight seniors), 13-5 Utah State (moved to the Western Athletic Conference) 12-6 Cal State Northridge (lost three multi-year starters) and 12-6 Cal State Fullerton (lost three starting forwards) appear vulnerable. UC Irvine (8-10), injury-wracked UC Santa Barbara (7-11) and late-blossoming Long Beach State (7-11) are poised to move up.