Cal State Fullerton Notebook : Sykes Prefers to Play His Way for Titans

John Sykes, Cal State Fullerton’s 6-foot 8-inch, 235-pound center, isn’t versatile, consistent or always the easiest player to coach.

But when he jogs onto the court in Titan Gym, he often gets the kind of cheer usually reserved for a player who scores far more than the 6 points a game Sykes averages.

His repertoire of shots extends little beyond 2-handed dunks off offensive rebounds and 6-foot jumpers.

His defense is sometimes punctuated by spectacular blocks, sometimes by unnecessary fouls. But the fans at Fullerton see something they like.


“He’s a spark plug, an inspirational player,” said Dan Duir, a Titan fan.

“He has no respect for authority,” said Mark Salas of Placentia, another fan. “He’s always in the dog house.”

Sykes’ play this season has sometimes been a frustration to Coach John Sneed, who says Sykes has done some good things for Fullerton--particularly rebounding, at 7 a game. But Sneed would like for Sykes to take fewer gambles on defense, to play straight up instead of taking the sort of chance Sykes relishes--something along the lines of going for a block on an 18-foot jumper.

Sykes claims that is just his nature.


“The way I figure, everything’s a gamble,” Sykes said. “Life is a gamble sometimes.”

Sykes is a player who has had his troubles. He was suspended for a game last week by Sneed for unspecified reasons. After missing the Titans’ loss to St. Mary’s Friday, Sykes returned to the team Monday.

“It was just a misunderstanding between me and Coach Sneed,” Sykes said. “We got it cleared up. He’s there to do his job, and I’m there to do mine. We’re back together.”

Sykes came to Fullerton last season, after earning a degree but not playing basketball at Merced College. He played at Texas his freshman year, but decided to leave, in part, he said, “because me and the coach didn’t get along.”


Last year, he started the first game of the season, became a reserve the next game, and for a time was replaced on the traveling roster by a walk-on.

This season, he didn’t start the first game, in part because he missed practice without an excuse over the Thanksgiving holiday.

But he had started 3 games in a row before the suspension, scoring a career-high 14 points and pulling down 10 rebounds against New Orleans. But he also was called for goaltending on a crucial play late in the game, possibly costing Fullerton a victory.

A joint effort with the Southern California Acro Team (SCATs), the Huntington Beach-based gymnastics school run by former Olympic Coach Don Peters, has been a boon to Fullerton gymnastics team fund-raising.


SCATs gymnasts have sold about 500 Fullerton gymnastics season tickets, most at $25 each, but including a number of VIP tickets at $50 each.

By contrast, women’s Coach Lynn Rogers said, Fullerton sold about 20 season tickets last year.

In return, the SCATs gymnasts who sold tickets were invited to a clinic put on by Fullerton that included instruction from nationally prominent coaches and gymnasts.

“The message is that there is interest in gymnastics,” Rogers said. “It just takes getting the word out.”


The Titans open the gymnastics season Jan. 20, with a women’s meet against Stanford, and the men against San Jose State.

The women’s basketball team, with a 9-1 record and an 8-game winning streak, moves into its Big West Conference schedule for good Thursday at UC Santa Barbara.

The Titans have played one conference game already, a victory over Pacific.

“We’re really happy with our start,” Coach Maryalyce Jeremiah said. “But . . . that 9-1 mark doesn’t have anything to do with now. . . . We’re going to put that where it belongs--on its own shelf.


“We have a long way to go even to meet our record in conference games last year. I don’t know if we can repeat that.”