Men's Basketball Takes a Defensive Stand

The old adage "offense wins games but defense wins championships" is something that the Cal State Fullerton men's basketball team hopes rings true in its quest to capture a Big West championship and a spot in the NCAA Tournament this season.

While CSUF already has a potent offensive game, fourth-year Titan Head Coach Bob Burton is instilling a new emphasis on the other side of the ball this season by drilling a defensive philosophy into the minds of his players.

Media Credit: Karl Thunman
SHINING THROUGH - Titan Justin Burns watches the ball go through the hoop during Friday night's easy 108-56 victory for the Titans in the Titan Gym.

"We've always been a really fast-breaking and offense-oriented team and the thing we really want to concern ourselves with is playing good defense this year," Burton said. "I think the offensive chemistry is going to be there and the off-the-court chemistry will be there, but we really need to emphasize playing good defense if we're going to win."

In the past, the Titans have been contained on the defensive end but are more interested in creating pressure this season, Burton said.

"Last year our defensive philosophy didn't fit our personnel right," returning senior forward Justin Burns said. "I think this year we're going to put a lot more pressure on the ball, which is going to make for more turnovers, which is going to make for more fast-break opportunities. I think we're going to win a lot more games because of the defense."

Since Burton's arrival, the steadily improving Titans have posted back-to-back winning seasons for the first time in over 20 years. The team was 16-13 last season and 21-11 in the 2004-05 season, which included a post-season NIT appearance.

"On the whole thing it looks like we've improved," Burton said. "We honestly didn't view last year as a good season. We thought we should've done better, which means our expectations are higher, and I think that's good, but we've got to do better this year. We really want to."

The Titans return this season with just four players from last year's squad.

However, the amount of experience joining the Titans this season includes four redshirts from last year's team, a double transfer and four junior college transfers.

"Because we have so many new players, our main goal right now is to get all these new players on the same page so that they're playing together," Burton said. "All in all, our goal is to really get them together, get better and better each week so that when we get to the end of the year and the tournament, we have a really legitimate chance of winning the tournament."

The addition of the new players provides the team with more depth than it has had in past seasons, Burton said.

Although there will be new faces and jerseys on the court this season, Burton said already he feels that the ever-important chemistry between his players is there.

"The chemistry is going to be better than we were last year," Burton said. "I think that's one thing, just the general attitude will be better. I'm looking forward to that. I think that's going to be an important thing."

Another important thing for the Titans is the return of 6-foot-2 point guard Bobby Brown after he declared for and withdrew from the NBA draft this summer.

"I got a lot of feedback," Brown said of his busy summer. "I was going to test the waters to see where my game is, to see how I match with the other talent in the country, basically building my resume."

The experience of working out with the Phoenix Suns, the Los Angeles Clippers and the Los Angeles Lakers, and attending the NBA Pre-Draft Camp in Orlando was beneficial for Brown, but one reason he made the decision to return to CSUF was to enjoy his senior year with all of his friends, he said.

"My goal for this season is to lead my team to a championship," Brown said. "We're trying to win a Big West championship. Our main focus right now is to take every game one step at a time."

Brown has a chance of becoming the Titans' all-time leading scorer this season as he currently is ranked No. 6 with 1,415 points compared to the 1,876 held by record-holder Leon Woods.

With a returning NBA prospect, a new defensive emphasis, a deep bench and its recent improvements over the past two years, the Titans are determined to continue their rise to the top this season.

"Our goal is to win the Big West conference title and hopefully go into the NCAA Tournament, make some noise and get that notoriety, that publicity so we can get Fullerton on the map so it's not 'Cal State Who?' anymore," Burns said. "I mean, I think we're already making steps in that direction with NIT two years ago, back-to-back winning seasons, but now we want to take it one step further."