Titan fans haven't had much to be excited about in nearly a decade, but with
the newfound competition at every position, this was one story that had to be
paper, the 2002-03 season appears to be the year Cal State Fullerton makes some
progress. Six quality new faces have been added to a roster
that already includes the best returning player in the Big West (Pape Sow) as
well as three other starters in Brandon Campbell, Derrick Andrew and Babacar
It’s been awhile but does anyone remember the last time the Titans had
this much talent in a given year? Some would say never. One guess might be the
1989-90 season which featured starters Cedric Ceballos, Mark Hill, Wayne Williams,
Agee Ward and David Moody. The backups were Ron Caldwell (Pac-10 transfer),
Aaron Wilhite (freshman but went on to play at UNC Charlotte), Bruce Bowen (freshman),
Van Anderson, Marlon Vaughn, John Sykes and Dareck Crane.
Unfortunately that team went 13-16 that year. The year before with this same
group and Derrick Jones, minus Bowen, Wilhite, Caldwell and Crane, they went
16-13, so perhaps it has nothing to do with the amount of talent. The bottom
line? Titan fans know what it’s like to have three, maybe four legitimate
Division I players on a team and now they crave the other side.
What can Donny Daniels do with a team that goes ten deep?
Well, they are about to find out thanks to a hard working coaching staff and
the ability to recruit with no restrictions. Here is a not-so-brief look at
what to expect at each of the five natural positions, along with some predictions
on who will win the battle for the starting role.
Point Guards: Zakee Smith vs. everyone?
The battle going on here is really not for the starting spot but on who will
see time as the backup to Zakee Smith. While fans may wish Denver Lopez steps
up and takes on this role, the fact remains he wasn’t able to last year
when the competition was next to zilch. This year Lopez will have to battle
with newcomers Federic Holm-hadulla (Fedi) and Anthony Bolton as well as last
year’s point guard Derrick Andrew who averaged 30+ minutes a game at the
Lopez may get his chance early on in the season and if he can correct his lack
of court vision and drastically improve on his assist to turnover ratio then
he has a shot. If not, look for Fedi, Bolton and Andrew to pick up the five
to 10 minutes a game as Smith’s backup.
Due to NCAA rules Fedi will not be eligible to play until the ninth game at
San Francisco (Dec. 28) because he participated
on a club team overseas. Fedi is a 21 year old sophomore who, according
to Daniels, “is an excellent outside shooter and a good ball handler.”
He is very quick and once he learns to play defense will add even more depth
to an already loaded backcourt.
Zakee Smith, on the other hand is what Coach Daniels has needed since his first
year as coach. Smith is a true playmaker who has the ability to get it to the
open man on the break as well as penetrate and dish it inside to Pape Sow in
a half court game. Smith will not average 14 assists as he did in the JC ranks
but should he role a seven, Titan gamers will worship him like no other. If
the Titans are destined to push the ball up the floor this year as Coach Donny
Daniels has indicated, Smith is a key component who needs to stay healthy.
Projected Winner: Zakee Smith with Fedi, Bolton and possibly Andrew
seeing time as his backup.
Shooting Guard: Derrick Andrew vs. Ralphy Holmes
Derrick Andrew will make the switch back to his natural position of off-guard
this season and he will be battling with Titan newcomer Ralphy Holmes for the
starting spot. Perhaps it may be premature to discount Derrick Andrew as he
has had a great summer working on his game as well as putting on a few pounds
from work in the weight room and he does have a year of experience under his
belt but Holmes will be tough to beat out.
Holmes, a 22 year-old sophomore from Philadelphia, is an exceptional talent
who never played high school ball. The Philadelphia Daily News has called Ralphy
“The Sensational” Holmes a top five playground legend and all indications
are this is true. At first glance Holmes doesn’t appear to be anything
special but after seeing him play a few times or most likely a few minutes,
you will be sold. Holmes simply loves to play basketball and it shows. He can
drive, he can pass, he’s got good handles, he can shoot and he can dunk
… with authority. He is destined to become a fan favorite.
Another aspect of Holmes will be his ability to make players around him better.
One benefactor of this, ironically, will be Andrew. Last year Derrick just didn't
have any competition and Andrew is a fierce competitor. He will not relinquish
the starting role without a fight. Andrew is the better defender but he will
need to improve his shot as well as finding the open man for him to keep up
with older Holmes. Ralphy, though, is just too good to come off the bench.
Where Andrew fits in only time will tell but it’s difficult to imagine
the team’s best defender seeing only spot minutes. This will most likely
be determined on a game-by-game basis but there should be times where a three
guard lineup will be favorable, especially in the Big West.
Projected Winner: Ralphy Holmes
Small Forward: Anthony Bolton vs. Brandon Campbell
great battle will be at the small forward position. Incumbent and fifth-year
player Brandon Campbell vs. incoming Palomar JC transfer Anthony Bolton. While
Campbell has the experience, Bolton appears to have the touch. His 50% FG shooting,
45% from three and 93% from the charity stripe bodes well for a Titan team which
lacked a shooter last year. He also happens to be a tremendous passer and may,
at times, try to be too unselfish.
But don't bet against a completely healthy Campbell. He's been working hard
on his shot during the summer and it appears that work is paying off. Experience
will also be a key factor. Campbell now has two years of Donny-ball under his
belt while Bolton will be coming in cold. If Bolton can adapt quickly, watch
out. Both players can play the two wing positions while Bolton can also play
Projected Winner: Campbell (if healthy) starting early with Bolton
making a push mid-season.
Power Forward: Jamal Forcheney vs. Bron Groomes
seeing Bron Groomes at the Say No and watching Jamal Forcheney at Open Gym there
was no doubt Forcheney was the better player. But those were first impressions.
The first time they faced each other, Groomes dominated. And the next time it
was Forcheney. Call it a hunch, but this is how it will be going well into February.
In the early going, Groomes has better range from the outside whereas Forcheney
is a better post player. A reason to like Forcheney is he seems to be a better
fit in a system that already has two scoring threats in Ralphy Holmes and Pape
Sow. Forcheney loves the offensive boards and the easy baskets and with Pape
drawing two or three guys, he will have plenty of opportunities.
If Pape and Ralphy are struggling, Groomes can come in and loosen up a defense.
He certainly is not shy about taking the open jumper – or even the not-so-open
jumper… Defense will be the key in this match up and whoever steps up
to be the guy who can stop the opposition should get the nod.
The X-factor at this spot is Amir Bar-Netzer who is a redshirt from Santa Monica
City College. If he were available for Daniels’ first two years he starts
… easily. This year the talent level has risen so much he is now relegated
to begging and pleading for 10 minutes a game. He’ll get some chances,
especially if the injury-prone Titans have another standard year in that department
but his role may become that of an enforcer.
When Fullerton need some fouls, put in Amir. When UCSB’s Jacoby Atako
takes a cheap shot at Ralphy, send in Amir. UCI’s Adam Parada getting
too many easy baskets? Amir, get in there! He’s not a dirty player by
any means, but he will be asked to play tough, to come in and set picks when
picks are needed, to intentionally foul when the frontline players can no longer
foul, and to know his role. Many of the new guys -- and a couple of the old
ones – should pay close attention as they can learn a lot from Amir.
Projected Winner: Jamal Forcheney only because Daniels needs to have
some scoring punch off the bench and Groomes fits this like a tee.
Center: Babacar Camara vs. Pape Sow
Lakers have Shaq and Kobe and the Titans have Pape and Ralphy (hmm, best to
leave this analogy for another time), but make no mistake, as with Shaq, Pape
Sow is the franchise, well, at least for one more year. Some had hoped he would
be back for his senior year but when a guy can put on over 50 pounds of muscle
in less than two years and with the skills he possesses, this tends to have
NBA scouts slobbering all over themselves.
(Side note: The scouts will be viewing Pape early and often as well as late
and if they sense any amount of improvement, he will be a first rounder. Scouts
from Portland and Dallas have already been seen at practices and he’s
been injured for most of them.)
How much will Pape improve over last year? It could be a tough call because
it’s not like you can put on all that weight without an adjustment period.
Last year was a prime example as it took him at least 10 games to get his timing
down and his shots started to fall. His numbers improved dramatically as the
season progressed and he became more comfortable with himself and D1 ball.
This should not to be the case this year as he is spending more time working
on his shooting. The Titans have a new-fangled contraption which forces you
to not only get a good arch on your shot but also spits the ball back to you
for maximum productivity. He has been diligently working with this machine during
the injury and it looks to be paying dividends.
Babacar Camara, on the other hand, has a much better chance of returning next
year. Though he’s a senior academically, this will be his third year as
a Titan and could regain his fourth year as long as he graduates before the
end of the summer. All indications are this will happen as the Titan coaches
and staff have been on top of this from day one. Looking at Camara as a junior
is much more palatable so be sure to ignore the Senior label all year.
Babacar started most of last year (Pape played at the four spot) but, because
of the influx of talent, this year he will have to improve quite a bit to keep
that starting role. He doesn’t necessarily have to beat out Pape, but
he will have to prove he can rebound, play tougher defense as well as play with
a sense of urgency and passion that has been lacking thus far.
The fact is it’s hard to dislike Babacar. Sure he has not performed up
to his potential, but he is 6-11, athletic and strong and you just don’t
give up on a player like this. Some say he doesn’t have it in him to get
better but, until his injury in practice session No. 2, it was clear he was
making significant progress. He’s certainly bigger. If he shows any increase
in intensity and makes improvement in the rebounding department as well as holding
on to the ball, Camara will change the minds of most of his critics.
Projected Winner: Pape Sow