When it comes to an ideal four-year college basketball career, it does not get much better than what Marvelle Harris has done. He was a quality contributor as a freshman, a double-digit scorer as a sophomore and then the team’s leader as an upper classman, not to mention he has the opportunity to be Fresno State Bulldogs’s all-time scoring leader. But Fresno State has not had many players like that in the last decade.
For Fresno State Head Coach Rodney Terry to make this 20+ win season possible, he needed the impact of now-seniors Cezar Guerrero and Julien Lewis. It was not an easy move for either of the two players, both of whom transferred from proud basketball programs - Guerrero from Oklahoma State and Lewis from Texas. Both were also rated as four-star recruits from various services.
And both players faced adversity in their time at Fresno State too.
Guerrero made a big splash in his first season with the ‘Dogs, scoring 13.1 points per game - in fact, it was he, not Harris, who was the team’s go-to scorer along with Tyler Johnson in their CBI run. But in his junior season, he was ineligible for half the season and his numbers have dipped again in his senior year.
Lewis, meanwhile, had the task of filling the void left by Johnson once eligible, but it was yet to be realized that “TJ” was a legitimate NBA talent. Lewis’s numbers were nearly identical with the ‘Dogs as they were with Texas at just over 11 points per game. As a senior, the former four-star recruit and Texas starter now has a sixth man role in the Mountain West - though Lewis has exploded for 51 points in the last two games
But Guerrero and Harris have have accepted their roles and it’s a big part of why this team has thrived. Marvelle Harris’s ability with the ball in his hand, along with Lionel Ellison’s defense have reduced Guerrero’s role, while an influx of frontcourt talent bumped Lewis to the bench.
On Wednesday night, both showed that they have not only accepted their roles, but they have completely bought into the program and Terry himself with their following comments:
“When I first transferred in, I was like ‘wow, this is a different environment from coming from Texas,’” Lewis said. “The building, like Coach Terry said, from the ground up and how it improved over time. How much the community helped us and was behind us the whole three years, plus the year before that. The community started to come around and I really appreciate that.
“There’s a lot of different things, but I am just ultimately happy by the (final home game). My teammates fought hard tonight and today was very special for us all, not just the seniors. It is the last time Coach Terry gets to coach us (seniors) here in the Save Mart Center and this is a really happy time for all of us.”
“Coming from Oklahoma State and having the experience just like (Julien),” Guerrero said. “All credit to Coach Terry. He has changed us a lot as well. He has matured us, and he has made us into better people, better students, and better human beings in life. All credit to him because without him, we wouldn’t be in this position.
“He has always been there for us when we need him. He is always a call away and he’s like a dad to us, basically, but more like a hard dad. First and foremost, I love that guy, he has done a lot for me, and I can speak for the rest of the team as well. He is probably a proud papa right now."
“These guys know how much I love them,” Terry said. “They’re like my own sons and I treat them that way. They know that our relationship isn’t going to end here, it’s going to be for a lifetime. That’s the thing about having the chance to raise young adults and having these guys go into young adulthood as a man. These guys are growing into that right now. The most proud moment I’ll have is when they get their degrees in their hands this spring. That’s the most I’ll be proud of these guys. They’ve come a long way. They probably thought they’d never had a college degree, and now they’ll have one.”
For the first years of Terry’s time at Fresno State, many praised his recruiting abilities, but criticized his ability to turn that talent into wins. In 2015-16, the Bulldogs look as good as they have in a long, long time, and Terry’s ability to get players with high expectations like Guerrero and Lewis to fit as role players in their senior year is a big part of why nearly 10,000 fans came back to the Save Mart Center to cheer the team's 21st win this season.