July 9, 2009
Fullerton, Calif. -
Despite the return of five lettermen who started an average of 22 games each last year, the 2009-10 Cal State Fullerton men's basketball team will have a drastically new look in the program's 50th season.
"Goodbye" pull-up jumpers and "Hello" pound the glass.
"It's going to be a 180-degree difference," said seventh-year Head Coach Bob Burton. "We've been guard oriented and mostly shot threes. Now we're going to pound the ball inside and then go get it."
The departure of Big West Conference player of the year Josh Akognon and his 366 3-point field goal attempts is half the equation. The other half is a stable of long, athletic wing and post players who provide the Titans their best depth in years. This year's team will be at least two inches taller per man than last season.
"We have a solid nucleus back and how they mesh and play together with the new guys will be the key," said Burton. "It's a totally different team. This is the biggest team we've had. In the past, we relied on our shooters. We will run as much as we always do, but it will be a more structured break... to get the ball down inside instead of kicking it out for the three. We will work hard to get the big guys to run to the block and develop an inside game.
"I really like this group, and what's coming back next year," said Burton, who acknowledges several players still have summer academic work to accomplish. "What I don't like is our schedule. It's very hard again."
At 15-17 (7-9 in the Big West) last year, the Titans suffered their first losing season since Burton's inaugural campaign in 2003-04. It was only the fourth losing season in his 39 years of coaching. They lived and died with Akognon's scoring (23.9 ppg, sixth in the nation).
Three eligible Div. I transfers plus the five returning veterans give the Titans far more experience to build upon than last year's team, which had only two returning lettermen. Those eight will be joined by three scholarship community college transfers, one returning squad member, one freshman and four walk-ons with varying backgrounds.
The triggerman will be sophomore point guard Jacques Streeter (6-0, Los Angeles), who started all 32 games last year and averaged 10.4 points and 4.4 assists to earn a spot on the Big West all-freshmen team. He led the league and was in the top 30 in the nation in assist-to-turnover ratio. He finished in the Top Ten in CSF freshman single-season statistics in six categories.
"He has a chance to be one of the top players in the Big West this year and one of the best point guards on the West Coast down the road," said Burton. "The experience he got last year was incredible. It was great for him to play with a player as great as Josh, but now a door opens for him to expand and leaves more openings for his stroke. He is really working hard this summer, too."
Backing up Streeter will be Jamel McGuire (6-5, Jr., Spring Valley), a transfer from San Diego City College, who also will see action at the off guard spot.
"Jamel has a chance to play a lot of minutes this year," said Burton. "He's a long, athletic kid who's really fast with the ball and can score from the `2' spot. He's a very good player who will take some time to adjust from JC ball. His brother (Dominic) plays for the Washington Wizards."
The Titans have another incoming JC point guard in Eric Williams (6-3, Jr., Ontario) from Orange Coast. He began his collegiate career at Metro State.
"He's a good defender and understands the game," said Burton. "He's really solid and has a chance to play."
Akognon's shooting guard spot will likely fall to Aaron Thompson (6-6, Sr., Los Angeles), who started 16 games last year at the small forward spot and averaged 7.9 points and 3.9 rebounds while playing in all 32 contests. But a pair of sharp-shooting juniors lurk in the wings along with McGuire.
"Aaron should have a breakout year for us," said Burton. "He's a great defender and can take it to the hole. He just needs consistency in his jump shot.
"Robbie Robinson (6-5, Jr., Northridge) gives us a lot to work with.... he's a tremendous shooter and made the all-state tournament team for Riverside, which won the state championship. He's a great athlete... a big, strong guard. He's so competitive and has a chance to be really good."
And then there's Devon Peltier (5-11, St. Thomas, Virgin Islands), a junior transfer from Missouri State-West Plains. He averaged 17 points per game while shooting 46 percent from the 3-point line (86 of 188).
"V.I. is another good shooter and is real competitive," said Burton. "He's kind of like Marcus Crenshaw was for us two years ago."
Gerard Anderson (6-6, Sr., Los Angeles), the team's leading rebounder a year ago at 5.8 per game at a power forward spot, will likely be moved to a wing spot.
"We'll see if he can do it," said Burton of the Big West honorable mention pick. "He needs to improve his shot, but he's so athletic and can defend on the perimeter. It will be a whole different deal for him rebounding from the `3' spot rather than the `4' spot, where he was often outmanned. He can get to the basket on anybody and if he can finish..."
Another candidate for that spot is Orane Chin (6-7, Soph., Miramar, FL), a transfer from South Florida who was a highly regarded high school player from the Miami area.
"He's another long, athletic kid who could be outstanding by the time it's over," said Burton. "We are really excited about him after his redshirt season. With him and Gerard and Robinson and Thompson all able to play the spot, we will have tremendous rebounding at the position."
The power forward spot also will be highly competitive among San Diego State transfer Jer'Vaughn Johnson (6-6, Jr., Compton), letterman Papa Guisse (6-8, Sr., Louga, Senegal) and Anderson.
"Johnson could be a poor man's Scott Cutley (Big West Co-MVP in 2008)," says Burton. "He can shoot it and bounce it and post up. He's smart and could be really outstanding in this conference. San Diego State didn't like losing him but he played mostly at the "5" spot there.
"Papa needs to get stronger. He's improved and can block shots and rebound. We need to get him to start scoring inside. We're working on that. He has a good shot."
The center or `5' spot is there for the taking for Bryce Webster (6-10, Jr., Minneapolis, MN), a Minnesota native who played one season for the Golden Gophers and one year at Irvine Valley College before concentrating on academics last year.
"He has a good background... we love guys who have played in those kind of places," said Burton. "He gives us size with ability we've never had before. He will be a key guy for us and give us a tremendous inside presence."
Also in the picture are returning letterman Ray Miller (6-8, Sr., Des Moines, IA), who played in all 32 games, 12 as a starter, and averaged 4.8 points and 3.6 rebounds, and freshman D. J. Shelton (6-9, Bakersfield, East Bakersfield HS), a cousin of recent Cal Poly standout Titus Shelton.
"Ray needs to step up and score more inside to be more of a force," said Burton. "Last year was a good adjustment from junior college ball for him. He has a great chance to again play major minutes.
"Shelton is going to be very good. He's a great prospect. He can shoot it pretty good and he has great genes."
Rounding out the 17-man summer roster are forward Will Faiivae (6-6, Jr., Ventura, Ventura JC), guard Frank Granados (5-8, Sr., Santa Ana, Santa Ana HS), guard Dalton Harbaugh (6-2, Fr., Anaheim, Western HS) and guard Kwasi Mensah (6-3, Soph., Rancho Cucamonga). The latter is a returning squad member who played 16 minutes last season. Faiivae is an athletic forward who averaged 10.9 points and 7.9 rebounds last season, Granados is a point guard who has been practicing against the Titans' women's team for three years and Harbaugh averaged 14.4 points and 5.4 rebounds as a senior with a 30-point game in the CIF playoffs.
The non-conference schedule includes four games against NCAA Tournament schools from a year ago - at UCLA, at Stephen F. Austin, at Utah State and vs. Morehead State in Logan, Utah -- and two post-season NIT participants - at San Diego State and vs. Weber State in Logan. New Mexico State returns an ESPN Bracket Buster game to Titan Gym in November and the Titans host a team to be determined in February.
The Big West promises to be as balanced as last year, when only four games separated champion Cal State Northridge (11-5) from seventh-place Fullerton and UC Davis (7-9).
"I've never seen this kind of balance," concluded Burton. "Bob Williams has his best team ever at Santa Barbara. Long Beach has all those freshmen returning. UC Riverside is much improved. Pacific is always good. Davis and Irvine have almost everybody back and Northridge is the defending champion."
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