At Cal State Dominguez Hills, men’s basketball Coach Dave Yanai bristles at the thought of preseason predictions.
The 11-year veteran, who greeted 12 players when practice began last week, took exception to the results of a straw poll conducted recently by California Collegiate Athletic Assn. athletic directors.
The eight Division II administrators selected Cal State Bakersfield, UC Riverside, Cal Poly San Luis Obispo and Cal Poly Pomona as the four teams to beat in the conference basketball race. Only one of the eight--Toro Athletic Director Dan Guerrero--even mentioned Dominguez Hills as a possible front-runner.
Seated in his office adjacent to the 4,200-seat Toro Gymnasium this week, Yanai was asked point blank to predict his team’s chances. Tugging at his glasses, he stared the interviewer right in the face.
“We have a contender,” he said.
So much for polls, said Guerrero, laughingly.
“I told the athletic directors that my reasoning for saying we would win the conference was that you can never bet against Dave Yanai,” he said.
Yanai holds a 166-127 career record at Dominguez and has been selected the CCAA coach of the year two years running. In 1987 his selection was no surprise. Although picked to finish seventh in the conference by sports information directors, the Toros tied for first place, then won the CCAA postseason tournament. Probably the greatest tribute to Yanai was his selection last season. Dominguez Hills (13-13 overall, 7-7 in the conference) finished in a tie for fourth and failed to advance.
Yanai points out that the Toros won seven of their last 10 games and that that momentum is expected to carry over this season. He returns six players, including starters Anthony Blackmon, Derrick Clark and Robert Barksdale. Six newcomers are learning quickly, he added. And, a key barometer for Yanai: He is pleased with the blend of personalities.
“I’m happy with the kids we have,” he said. “They are a nice bunch.”
Yanai said that the 1988-89 Toros “compare favorably to some of (my) teams that have done very well in the past.”
Blackmon, whom Yanai calls “the best player in this conference,” is a 6-foot, 7-inch senior forward/center from Los Angeles with a soft 15-foot jumper. He averaged 16.7 points and 7.3 rebounds a game last year, despite being in Yanai’s doghouse on and off for uninspired play.
Barksdale, a 6-foot sophomore from Hawthorne High School, won a starting guard berth late in the year with his streak shooting from the perimeter. He averaged 7.5 points a game and gave the Toros a new running dimension when on the floor. Clark, an intense 6-foot, 1-inch senior point guard from Detroit, provides the team’s heart and soul. He was second in scoring at 9.8 points a game.
Also back is 6-foot sophomore guard Bryan Dell’Amico from Bishop Montgomery High. He is expected to come off the bench and hit the three-point shot. Kevin Shaw, a 6-foot-3 junior guard, will add depth. Brian Johnson, a 6-foot-4 redshirt center from Santa Monica High, could complement Blackmon.
Two front-court starting jobs are open, and Yanai said if he had to pick a starting team right now he would use walk-on Kenyatta Kalisana from Marymount-Palos Verdes College at one spot. Kalisana, a 6-foot-4 junior transfer, has been “a pleasant surprise,” Yanai said. Other newcomers include 6-foot-5 freshman forward Marty Ward from Narbonne High and 6-foot-4 sophomore Segaro Bozart, also from Narbonne. Steve Van Dyke, a 6-foot-3 freshman walk-on from South Torrance High, is battling for a front-line spot. In the back-court another walk-on, 6-foot-1 freshman Adams Weeks from New York, will try to break into a four-guard rotation.
Yanai said the Toros will run more. How well they do with a quicker-paced offense (the team averaged only 66 points a game a year ago) depends on defensive rebounding, which Yanai said “really needs to improve.”
A preseason schedule that appears to be a bit soft, from the standpoint of consistent, quality competition, should provide an opportunity for the Toros to meld. Yanai points to a home game Nov. 28 with Howard University, a Division I school, as an early test.
By the time CCAA play opens in mid-January, people at the school say Dominguez Hills will have proven that it should not be counted out.