A New Era for Titan Basketball

Fullerton, Calif. -- Five years ago Head Coach Bob Burton took over a Cal State Fullerton Men's Basketball team that was in a state of crisis. They were struggling to compete in the Big West Conference and weren't so much as a blip on the national basketball radar. Athletically uncompetitive and academically woeful, there was much work to be done.

Fast-forward to the present day and the program is as different as night and day. Gone are the days of academic probation. Gone are the days of being on the bottom-rung of the Big West Conference. Gone are the days when potential recruits avoided a Titan jersey at all costs.

Currently, the Titans are coming off three consecutive winning seasons and have won an astounding 20 games in two of Burton's four complete seasons with the program. The last team to win 20 games in a season prior to Burton's arrival was Coach George McQuarn's 1982-83 squad.

This season the Titans have jumped out to a 11-6 start while going 4-2 in conference play, and they hope that they are on their way to another 20-win season. They also hope to win the Big West Conference tournament - something that hasn't happened since 1978 - which would earn them a berth to the annual NCAA tournament.

The stability and success Bob Burton has brought to the program may be a surprise to some, but it shouldn't be. Since he started his coaching career as an assistant at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo in 1969, every program Burton has touched has transformed from mediocre to a perennial contender.

"I've loved basketball ever since I was a kid and it's something that I always wanted to do," Burton said. "I honestly have never looked at it as a job. I'm just so lucky to be doing something like this."

While he may feel lucky to be a head coach, the success he has had over the past 38 years has nothing to do with luck. At West Valley Community College he compiled a 488-158 overall record, reaching the state championship three times. He is also currently battling former Titan Head Basketball Coach Bobby Dye for CSUF's all-time highest winning percentage.

"I know what a great coach he was and he's a way better coach than I am," Burton said. "If I ever wind up with a higher winning percentage [than him] it's probably because I had a little bit better players."

Always quick to deflect praise, Burton has the respect and admiration from all the players on his team. Kenneth Alexander, a senior who transferred from West Valley, has seen first-hand the various aspects of Burton's personality.

"He's hilarious off the court, but on the court he's all about business -- all about work," Alexander said. "When practice is over, he tries to be the funniest man on the team."

Eddie Lima, a junior center from Brazil, said he likes Burton's blend of tough teaching and silly humor.

"Sometime he gets upset with us because we're playing sloppy, but he has to push us to make us better," Lima said. "He's a tough coach, but if you come out and practice and work hard, you see that he's an outgoing coach."

Only in his fifth season with the Titans, Burton has already laid the framework for his legacy. He's managed to erase the academic woes of the past, develop a winning mentality in the Titan community and restore pride to a program that has seen decades go by without something to smile about.

Whether or not the Titans win the Big West this year and advance to the NCAA tournament - an ambitious goal to say the least - no one can deny the overall success the program has had thus far. Titan fans can only hope Burton stays at Fullerton as long as he did at West Valley, a remarkable 21 years.

"I'm going to go as long as I can, and I think the age thing is a factor to a certain degree," Burton said. "But I think as long as I have the passion, the enthusiasm and the excitement, and it's not a job, I'll continue to do it."

The Titans next home game is Wednesday January 23rd against Big West rival UC Riverside at 7 p.m. in the Titan gym.