Three newcomers' eligibility status is currently unknown and one projected starter in the post may be lost for the season due to injury.
Steven McClellan from Louisiana-Monroe, Michael Williams from San Francisco, and James Douglas from Northern Arizona have applied for hardship waivers to avoid sitting out this season.
Darius Nelson, runner-up for Gatorade player of the year in California in 2011, is out of action with a broken foot. He may be able to play in late January or early February but he may also redshirt his freshman year.
Despite the unknowns and lack of experience returning, Cal State is expected to compete for the Big West title along with the Dirtbags of Long Beach and Hawaii, who is new to the Big West this year.
The Titans have been practicing for a week now and it's been a very good one at that. Here are some very early observations, starting at the top:
Returning seniors Kwame Vaughn and D.J. Seeley are simply phenomenal. Co-Captain clutch players who love to compete and nothing has changed. They are leaders on the floor -- and in the classroom -- and they will both be competing for top honors in the Big West. Those two, and three Section KAOS members would would most certainly win a few games in the Big West.
Despite the accolades Seeley and Vaughn have some serious competition for top honors on this team. Sammy Yeager is the real deal. Great ball control and body control. Can light it up from the outside, passes well and is another clutch player with the game on the line. Think sensational Ralphy Holmes but with a better outside shot. Yes, he's that good. Downside is we only have him for one year.
If eligible, and chances are very good in his case, head coach Andy Newman is going to have a tough call to make with 6-0 PG Michael Williams.
Does he redshirt or do you save him for next year? If you do play him, where will the minutes come from seeing that Vaughn has a lock at the point?
Williams is another player with only one year of eligibility and he is another excellent one. If Casper Ware and Jacques Streeter had a baby, Williams would be the by-product, both in looks and style/quality of play.
Vaughn, Seeley, Yeager and Williams are a clear cut above everyone else right now but can you play all four at the same time? Before the Nelson injury there was no doubt in my mind that Williams should redshirt, but now, after seeing him play and with Newman's job in the balance, not so sure.
I don't know what coach Newman thinks but I could see Williams running the point and have three wing players with one post. Would be tough from a height disadvantage but would cause match up problems for sure.
Ok, enough dreaming. Time to move onto the rest. The biggest question the Titans have this year, with the loss of Amonde Amoke, is where will the rebounding come from?
We need Steven McClellan. Desperately. Unfortunately the odds are not as good as they are with Michael Williams in getting that hardship waiver. With McClellan, what you see is what you get. He has a good sized body, good post moves and should provide the Titans with much-needed rebounding and defense in the post. If eligible, I can easily see 25 minutes a game. And seeing how he is coming from a DI school, he shouldn't have the JC growing pains.
Marquis Horne is a wild card. He is not the banger-type but he will be playing in the post. He looks similar to Kobe Bryant but plays more like Gerard Anderson, granted not yet at his level. He can shoot better than Anderson but has a long ways to go on the defensive end. Right now he is struggling with learning the system, knowing where to be, and thinking too much, but he is very athletic and has a lot of potential.
James "Deuce" Johnson is pretty much what you would expect, given his credentials. He will not be taking any threes and will not likely be a scoring threat every game but he could give us solid minutes. He does have DI experience so that is also a plus. With all of our scoring options, setting picks, defending and rebounding are all the Titans need and, in the early going, he seems like he can do all three.
Last of the post players, and may not be least, is our tallest player, by a lot, 6-9 John Underwood. He has certainly put on a few pounds from last year and he looks like he may benefit the most with the head coaching change as he should get every opportunity to play more this year.
However, I can't honestly say Underwood has improved a lot. He still boxes out with his hands, still looks like a fouling machine, has issues with ball-handling, and doesn't use the backboard as much as he should, but you just have to love his enthusiasm and attitude. Coaches Newman and Julius Hicks are certainly making every effort to make him a better player, so time will tell if this extra dedication is going to pay off. He also has to want it and he is going to have to put in the extra time if he's going to make it happen.
Alex Harris is another transfer with DI experience and he is only a sophomore. Harris can jump and he can jump high which is why his listed 6-1 height may be misleading. He seems at least 6-3 or 6-4. Even if Williams is eligible I can see him getting lots of playing time. Still getting a feel for his specialty but I think he may be one of the better defenders on the team. He is super quick and explosive and surprisingly has a pretty good outside shot.
James Douglas is another DI transfer and he is also only a sophomore. Even if he gets his hardship waiver -- a good bet he will -- I would like to see him redshirt. He's good but if Williams plays, there just won't be any playing time available and it would nice to have him for the next three years running the point.
Jared Brandon has really good size for a freshman and seems to do well against his older brethren but clearly he's is not ready for prime time. He is a slasher type with an awkward outside shot but does make some plays every once in awhile that he doesn't disappear.
Another player who seemed to catch my eye every once in awhile is walk-on Chris Collins. I just don't think he's taking himself seriously enough. I actually believe he would be a good player on this team with a little more dedication or maybe it's just confidence. He has some plays, mostly on the defensive end, which leave me scratching my head, wondering where that came from. He is likely going to be providing depth at the four spot.
Overall, after a week of practice, I am very impressed and this team has the potential to be very good. I predict Sammy Yeager will be the fan favorite and, if the Titans do win the conference title, we will have three first team All-Big West players. I predict John Underwood will see more playing time than last year and he will continue to have game-changing moments, though not as much as we'd like. Other than that, at this point, there are just too many unknown's to predict much of anything else other than it's going to be another wild ride.