If the Cal State Fullerton men’s basketball team (1-3) manages to put
together a successful run in this 2002-03 season, then all those promises of
raising this team from the doldrums of the loser’s column would be validated.
But the Titans haven’t relished in such glory since ‘92-’93
when they went 15-12, a year highlighted by an 83-82 victory over UNLV.
Back then, San Antonio Spurs guard Bruce Bowen wore number 12 on his Titan jersey
and coach Brad Holland was at the helm.
Now led by NBA prospect, Pape Sow, and a slew of raw first time Div. 1 players,
the Titans hope to shed the school’s reputation of losing. However, they
know that they will venture through the season with their backs against the
wall, carrying doubters, critics and a long history of disappointment on their
Such adversity doesn’t even faze this year’s squad, because the
program has been injected with new life.
“We’re new here, so we’ve blocked out the past,” said
6’4 guard Ralphy Holmes, a sophomore transfer from Allan Hancock JC. “We’re
here to start over and to make are own identity. It’s a challenge.”
Holmes along with Anthony Bolton, Zakee Smith and Bron Groomes, round out
the junior college transfers that have made the greatest impact already this
season, with Holmes, Bolton, and Smith having slipped easily into starting roles
and Groomes a lock as a key contributor off the bench.
Amir Bar-Netzer, who head coach Donny Daniels considers the biggest surprise
on the team, has earned an early starting position at forward but even he was
a walk-on then red-shirted last year.
Four of the five starters had never played a minute of Div. I basketball before
the start of this season but that didn’t deter them from setting some
pretty hefty expectations.
“Our goal is to win the Big West,” Holmes said. “I think we
have the talent to compete with anyone on the West coast.”
Visions of championships are running sky high in Titan Gym and Daniels is quick
to bring all of it back to ground level.
“We look at this year as a learning process,” said Daniels who is
entering his third campaign as head coach.
The back-to-back five win seasons on Daniels resume are somewhat misleading
leaning on the fact that CSUF has been unable to recruit from junior colleges
for the past three years. Daniels has mentioned many times he looks at this
season like it is his first, because many of the sanctions imposed by the NCAA
have been lifted.
If this year is the beginning for Daniels, then the goals he has set for his
team are reasonable.
Before the Titans start hanging banners from the rooftops, a double-digit win
season is more realistic in his eyes. The last time that happened was in 1998-99
when the team ended with a 13-14 record.
The Titans also need to keep their defensive field goal percentage between
40-46 percent, Daniels said. In the Fullerton’s first two losses in Hawaii,
the Titans allowed Texas A&M Corpus Christi and Arkansas-Little Rock to
average a combined 54.5 percent from the field.
Finally, the main goal is to bring back a healthy returning team for next year
to solidify some type of consistency with the program. The only significant
loss due to eligibility would be fifth-year senior Brandon Campbell.
Campbell has struggled with injuries his entire career and walks around practice
and before games without a smile mostly due to the fact he rarely is able to
participate in games.
The uncertainty and mystery of Campbell’s foot injury hasn’t brought
down the morale of the team. The Titans have played tough in the face of deficits
this year showing the ability to come back. They hustle and rebound. They play
that depth, energy and athleticism need to translate into wins,” Daniels
said. “Every day, every pass, every rebound, every shot, our guys are
will learn and hope to not get discouraged.”
If the Titans play the way they did against Morris Brown on Dec. 2, where they
defeated the visiting Wolverines by 18, then they have nothing to worry about.
It also helps to have a promising superstar in Sow, a 6-10 250 pound forward
from Dakar, Senegal, who began garnering attention from NBA scouts after averaging
a little over 15 points and eight rebounds last season to lead the team. Plus,
he dropped 36 points against Sacramento State last December. (two points shy
of CSUF’s Div. I school record for most points by a single-player in a
“I don’t think about that right now,” said Sow of his chances
of playing in the NBA. “If it’s coming, it comes. All I’m
worrying about is helping my team.”
Sow, who’s athleticism and big body have scouts drooling over his potential,
admits he has struggled with all the attention opposing defenses have shown
him early on with double and triple teams; a defensive trend that will continue
throughout the year. It has made him even more persistent in accomplishing his
“I want to be the best big man not only in the West but in the entire
nation,” Sow said. Not to mistake confidence with arrogance, Sow is all
about team basketball and his teammates understand.
“He’s the cornerstone of our team,” Holmes acknowledges, but
so does every school on the schedule.
It is no secret the Titans will go where ever Sow will lead them, putting that
much more pressure on him to make the right plays at the right times.
“He’s going to have to find different ways to score,” Daniels
said. “It’s not going to be that easy for him to score just through
the post (because of double teams). He’s going to have to work that much
Sow will have help in the post but mostly on defense with cousin Babacar Camara
and JC transfer Jamal Forcheney. Throw in Groomes and Bar-Netzer and the Titans
are well off up front.
Junior Denver Lopez will see time at the point behind Smith, who has surpassed
even what Daniels dreamed he would bring to the team. The 6’1 guard is
quick and elusive, while dishing out assists. He also penetrates the lane, driving
the ball into the big men down low.
“Where I’m from we don’t call no fouls,” said Smith,
who spent his childhood on the playgrounds of Philadelphia. “I’m
used to the contact.”
Last years point-guard Derrick Andrew will see most of his time at the two,
giving him the freedom to get out and make plays.
Other additions include Fedric Holm-Hadulla a 6’2 guard from Germany,
who because of a contract agreement with his professional club team in Germany,
will not suit up until Dec. 28.
Daniels can’t stress enough that this year is a learning process for his
players. Despite the inexperience, the Titans have shown a confident attitude
on the floor with flashes of team cohesiveness and a little bit of flair.
But all that promise doesn’t mean anything if in the end the win column
still reads zero. The Titans have already thrown that notion out the window
showing signs this might be a successful season.
Or will it?
“I’m not trying to predict nothing,” Campbell said. “I’m
just here to play.”
And everyone is watching.