By Bill Sheehan
When Cal State Fullerton men's basketball head coach Dedrique Taylor filled two assistant coaching positions last spring, it may have appeared to some that he did one-stop shopping.
Taylor hired Gus Argenal and Brandon Dunson, who both served last year on Eric Musselman's staff at the University of Nevada at Reno. Musselman became Arkansas' head coach in April, and the two coaches suddenly were available. Argenal was named Fullerton's associate head coach, and Dunson was chosen to be an assistant coach.
"Some people might think it was a package deal, but I chose them on their own individual talents," said Taylor, who is in his seventh year as the Titans head coach. The newcomers replaced John Smith and Danny Sprinkle, who accepted Division 1 head coaching jobs at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo, and Montana State, respectively.
"Gus and Brandon have blended in exceptionally well. It's been a great marriage with our program," said Taylor, whose teams reached the Big West Tournament final the past two years, winning the title in 2018. "These two guys are poised to take it to another level. They have knowledge, energy and have gotten off to a great start building relationships with the student-athletes and the community."
Taylor, whose team makes its debut Oct. 16 in its annual Blue/Orange Scrimmage, has longtime ties with both men. Earlier in his career, he coached Argenal at UC Davis and Dunston at Arizona State. Both were point guards.
"I met Coach Taylor when I was young and not very smart – I thought I knew everything," said Argenal. "He really took me under his wing when I was a freshman. My wife, Hannah, was also a freshman basketball player. So we both got to know him, and we have stayed friends since then. Throughout my basketball coaching career, there have been many decisions that I have bounced off him."
Argenal, the head coach at Cal State East Bay in Hayward for four years in the mid 2010s, recalls facing Taylor's Fullerton teams. "I was familiar with him as a person, and it's been awesome getting to know him even more as a coach. Now I see first-hand why he's had the success he's had."
Dunson also developed a special bond with Taylor over the years. "He was a big brother-father figure for me at ASU," said Dunson. "He would pat me on the back when I did well, but he also kept me in line. We have talked weekly since the day I met him."
Brandon Dunson (left) and Gus Argenal. Credit Nevada Athletics
Myriad responsibilities for associate head coach
Argenal said he has a wide range of responsibilities at the associate head coach. "No. 1, I'm spending time on the floor with the guys, making them better players and building relationships with them. We'll try to develop the young men and make them better people too. No. 1A is making an impact in recruiting, whether it is meeting with the families or the student-athletes themselves. And I'm trying to give Dedrique as much input – fresh and new ideas – as I can every day."
Argenal, who describes himself as a "high-energy coach," said he stresses the importance of basics during workouts. "It's important to teach the guys the little parts – setting a screen, throwing a chest pass, sliding your feet."
His recruiting philosophy is cut and dry. "The main questions are: 'Can he play for our coach?' and 'Is he a tough person?' I'm saying not so much physically but in terms of being mentally tough. Another question is: 'Is he a high-character person?' In terms of basketball, we'll try to recruit more skilled guys who are athletic, which is hard to do. Shooting skills are such a big part of basketball, but we also want student-athletes who are athletic and able to play pressure defense."
"I look forward to helping Coach Taylor on a day-to-day basis with office management and player management. I've sat in that chair as a Division 2 head coach, so I have felt the pressure and gone through those battles."
A keen observer of basketball trends, Argenal said he favors the change in the collegiate three-point shooting arc. The 3-point line is being moved out to 22 feet, 1 ¾ inches this season, matching the international distance. The old line was 20 feet, 9 inches.
"It's really smart to move it back. Basketball is a world game, and the rules should be as universal as possible," he said.
Defense is another aspect that he said is evolving. "In basketball, to be really successful, you have to get guys who can guard multiple positions. Varying the defense can go a long way in the team's success. In a sense, it's positionless basketball."
A Northern California native, Argenal was raised in Lafayette. He attended De La Salle High School in nearby Concord, where he was a three-year starter. As a senior and team captain, he led De La Sale to the Northern California regional finals and was named the Bay Valley Athletic League MVP.
High school coach was key mentor
"I played for Frank Allocco, and he was my inspiration to be a coach. He was a great motivator and leader who helped me with life decisions," said Argenal.
Allocco said Argenal was driven to succeed at a young age. "He is a hard worker and a self-made guy. He overachieved and always had very high demands on himself. And he was always very focused," said Allocco, who is now the senior associate athletic director of external relations at the University of San Francisco.
"Gus dominated with his defensive effort and intensity. He was one of those guys you knew would be a coach once he finished playing," said Allocco.
At UC Davis, Argenal still holds the school single-game record with 13 assists. As a senior, he led the 2003-04 Aggies in assists and steals and helped the team post an 18-9 record.
After graduating with a history degree, he became a graduate assistant at Arizona State, where he earned a master's degree in education. From there, his career path took him back to UC Davis, the University of Texas at San Antonio, Chico State, UC Davis again and Rice University in Houston. In 2013, he accepted the head coaching job at Cal State East Bay.
Cal State East Bay went 35-76 under Argenal, including a tenure-best 13-15 in his final season. He spent the last two seasons at Nevada, serving as an assistant coach for the 2017-18 season and the associate head coach last season. Argenal played a key role in player development and recruiting for Nevada, which won the Mountain West Championship and went to the NCAA Tournament both years.
Gus Argenal. Credit Nevada Athletics
Life is good in Huntington Beach
Argenal and his wife, Hannah, live in Huntington Beach with their sons Bo, 10, and Ace, 8. "It was always our dream to live near the water," said Argenal.
Hannah, who does marketing for a real estate company, played guard in college. "She was the more athletic one," said Argenal. "She could grab the rim. I hope our kids got her athletic genes."
"She will give me her opinions on basketball things, and she is right a lot of the times," he said. "For example, she might tell me we aren't passing enough. Flash forward – I will be saying the same thing she was saying two weeks earlier. Give her credit."
Argenal, whose ultimate goal is to lead a Division 1 team, isn't the only coach in his family. His brother Justin is the head coach of their alma mater, De La Salle.
"Accountability is the top factor in building a team's success," Argenal said. "To be good, you have to set the bar high as well as create an unselfish program where the young men pick up each other every day."
Father is role model for Dunson
Brandon Dunson, who was born in Gardena and raised in Bloomington, Illinois, said he embraces all of the challenges of being an assistant coach, from being a teacher on and off the court to a recruiter evaluating prospective student-athletes.
His father, Dodie Dunson Sr., runs a community center in a low-income area of Bloomington and is a legend in central Illinois basketball circles. "Everything he does there is to help people and teach them about life. He wants them to be better when they leave than when they arrive. And that's how it is for me – I want to help develop better people.
"School is very important, but I learned more life lessons from basketball than any other avenue. Every lesson you learn in basketball directly translates to life, whether it is being a good teammate or doing the right things. That's the biggest reason I coach. I love the teaching aspect."
Dunson said recruits must have a certain level of ability and talent, but his main goal is finding players who fit Taylor's teaching style and system. "A player's personality and character on and off the court are also critical because those are the things that sustain success," he said.
He applauds the Titans basketball culture. "It's not winning at all costs. It's all about following the process and doing things right. Then winning becomes a byproduct of that."
A point guard who could score from outside and was a tough defender, Dunson played at Bloomington Central Catholic High School for Jeff Wulbrun, a Cal State Fullerton graduate who is now the associate head coach at Stanford.
Playing for multiple teams called good experience
Dunson played basketball for four colleges in four years. He started at Southern Illinois Edwardsville before moving to Wabash Valley Community College in Illinois, Arizona State and Azusa Pacific in La Verne.
"It was challenging to play at four different schools, but in the long run it was the best thing that could have happened to me. I got to see multiple styles of coaching, even though I didn't know I wanted to be a coach back then. But now I pull back those memories and draw on those experiences."
He competed a couple months for Mexicali in Mexico's Liga Nacional de Baloncesto Profesional before ended his playing career. After exploring the idea of working for a sports agency, he decided to pursue a career in coaching.
He has worked as a professional basketball consultant and served as the associate program director for the Team Illinois Education & Athletics Program. He then landed a job as an assistant coach at Arizona Christian University in Phoenix, where he handled recruiting, scouting and prospect development. ACU head man Jeff Rutter had coached Dunson in his senior year at Azusa Pacific University.
Brandon Dunson. Credit Nevada Athletics
Praise for his overall coaching abilities
"So many guys are specialists. He can do it all. He is very talented and has outstanding character," Rutter said of Dunson. "He picked it up quickly because he worked so hard. And he did a good job of developing our kids."
"He is a natural leader. His peers respected him as a player. You could tell he would be good at whatever he wanted to do."
Dunson moved on to Stanford in 2016, where he was director of basketball development for two years. Working under head coach Jerod Haase and Wulbrun, his high school coach, he assisted in recruiting, scouting and oversaw the program's video services. Last year, he joined Eric Musselman's staff at Nevada.
"Coach Rutter was great in my transition to adulthood. He's the best Xs and Os person I've ever been around. He showed me it doesn't matter what level you are at – it's all about helping people," said Dunson, who aims to eventually become a Division 1 head coach.
"Coach Haase taught me to be a great person in everything I do. And I gained a lot of knowledge from Coach Musselman – he was always finding ways to get better. And he was always open to new ideas from everyone around him."
Dunson lives in Anaheim and has quickly taken to life in Orange County. His family often vacationed on the West Coast to visit old friends, so he's familiar with the region. "I love Southern California," he said. "You can't beat it."