Joe Harrington finally is getting what he has wanted since arriving two years ago as head basketball coach at Cal State Long Beach: big players who are good athletes.
Never again, he hopes, will he face what he had to this season. There were games in which the 49ers, because of injuries, had only one player taller than 6 feet 5 inches.
Harrington, who has a 30-27 record at Long Beach, has won acclaim for getting the most from marginal talent. This season’s team, 13-15 overall and 10-8 in the Big West Conference, competed effectively against all the Big West teams except the champion, Nevada Las Vegas. Outmatched in size, depth and athletic ability, the 49ers were overwhelmed twice by Las Vegas, which went to the NCAA West Regional finals.
Results of Recruiting Efforts
Harrington believes that will change soon. The recruiting efforts of the last two years have produced an impressive group of young players.
“I’m not a boisterous person,” Harrington said this week in his office as he looked at a board on which he had written the names of those players, “but these guys are pretty good, and they’re good athletes. We have the bodies and the athletes to compete with Vegas. That doesn’t mean we’re going to win (right away), but you have to have that to start with. We’re starting to approach (the point) where we can compete with the best teams in the country.”
Here is a look at the new players, listed by the academic class they will be in next season:
Kevin Cutler--A 6-foot-8, 220-pound forward with 38-inch arms. Two years ago, while at Arizona Western College, he was Arizona’s junior college player of the year. “He’s an Illinois-type player,” Harrington said, referring to the high-leaping players on the University of Illinois’ Final Four team. “That’s what it takes.” Cutler’s specialties are rebounding and intimidating the defense. “He changed the whole tone of our practices,” Harrington said. “When he came out John Hatten and the other big guys could no longer shoot layups.”
Kevin Williams--Also 6-8 and 220, Williams played at Arizona Western, where he was rated the nation’s No. 2 junior college power forward. Before that, he played at the University of Cincinnati. Seth Greenberg, 49ers assistant coach, said Williams is a scorer who can shoot outside and who reminds him of former NBA great Chet Walker.
Kenny Jarvis--A 6-5 guard from Millikan High School in Long Beach, Jarvis averaged 11.5 points a game and shot 57% from the field, mostly on intermediate range jumpers, for the College of Southern Idaho in Twin Falls. “He’s the prototype NBA guard,” Greenberg said. “He can shoot and make plays for himself and his teammates.” Jarvis could be the outside shooter the 49ers badly need.
Frankie Edwards--Another former all-CIF player from Millikan, the 6-8, 220-pound Edwards, a power forward, sat out this season under the National Collegiate Athletic Assn.'s Proposition 48. He is now academically eligible. “He might be one of the meanest players I’ve had,” Harrington said of Edwards.
Ron Winbush--Formerly of Crenshaw High School in Los Angeles, Winbush also sat out this season under Proposition 48. He is 6-9, 180 pounds and likely will play guard. “When we’re trapping (in the full-court press) it will be hard for opponents to throw the ball over him,” Harrington said.
Troy Joseph--Harrington discovered the 6-3 Joseph at a campus three-on-three tournament last fall. He played at Western High School in Anaheim and at Fullerton College. “A slashing athlete” who can shoot, defend and take the ball to the basket, Greenberg said.
Mike Masucci--A 6-10 center, he started eight games as a freshman two years ago at the University of Kansas. Greenberg said Masucci has the highest basketball IQ among the 49ers. But he might not have a future at Long Beach--the coaches doubt he will be able to earn the 24 credits he needs to be eligible under NCAA transfer rules.
Adam Henderson--At 6-10 and 190 pounds, he was all-city this season at Los Angeles High School. “He could be the next Larry Nance,” Greenberg said, referring to the Cleveland Cavalier forward known for his great jumping ability. “There aren’t too many guys around with his ability. He has a chance to be a pro.”
Lucious Harris--From Cleveland High in Reseda and another all-city player, Harris is a 6-5 guard who is known as a scorer.
Bryon Russell--A 6-7 forward from San Bernardino High, Russell scored 28 points against Glendora High as his team won the CIF Southern Section 4-AA title. “A blue-collar worker who likes to rebound,” Greenberg said.
Also on the board were the names of players who will be returning from this season’s team.
The seniors will be point guard Tyrone Mitchell, who was recently named the team’s player of the year; forward Rudy Harvey, and guards Darrell Faulkner and Walker Moore.
There is doubt about the status of another senior-to-be, forward Andre Purry, who a year ago was an all-league forward. “In all reality he might not play,” Harrington said of Purry, who had his knee surgically reconstructed after an injury last summer.
Also returning as sophomores will be guards Bobby Sears and Brian Jones.
‘It’s Taken Two Years’
Harrington looked at the board and said, “It’s taken us two years to put that together. A lot of days and nights of recruiting. And we’re not done. Two more are coming; there’s going to be another 6-9 guy.”
He likes the competitiveness of his players.
“Cutler, Williams, Jarvis, Joseph, Edwards, Winbush, Jones, Sears and Mitchell are straight-out gym rats, they play all day long,” he said. “There are guys on that board who dream of playing pro basketball. It could be a reality for some of them.”
Harrington does not promise that the 49ers will become a Top 20 team next season.
“It’s going to take a couple years for them to mature but you’ll see improvement next year,” he said. “I saw how much our seniors, John Hatten and Marco Fleming, improved this year. I know we’re doing the right things here. If this group improves like they did, I know we’ll be very competitive.
“It’s hard to turn it around in college basketball. There are a lot of good players, a lot of good teams and a lot of good coaches.”
His Ultimate Goal
Harrington’s goal is to get into the NCAA Tournament. “Every athletic director wants his team to get there (because) there’s a lot of money involved,” he said. “Being in the tournament also generates so much enthusiasm for a program.”
Perhaps the players finally have arrived. But will Harrington always be there for them?
There has been speculation that the day is not far away when Harrington--who was named by one publication as one of the five best young coaches in America--will go to a “basketball factory,” a university that can offer him first-rate facilities and big money.
But he has constantly expressed a fondness for Long Beach--the school and the city.
“I don’t think about leaving,” he said Monday.
He looked at the board again and saw the reasons for staying, at least for the next couple of seasons.