News that his San Diego State basketball team was picked on Monday in a media poll to finish last in the nine-team Western Athletic Conference should not have surprised Coach Jim Brandenburg.
After all, that is where the Aztecs finished last season and they return only one starter. What has Brandenburg wondering these days is a more basic concern.
Two weeks into preseason practice and he is unsure what form his team will take. Will the Aztecs be a team built around a big center or will they be one that relies on a small, quick front line?
"It's fish or cut bait time," Brandenburg said at the annual WAC media day. "We have to decide soon what kind of team (we) will be."
Injuries are the reason for Brandenburg's dilemma. And until he knows who will be healthy and who will not, Brandenburg will remain uncertain about the team he will field against Villanova in the Aztecs' season-opener Nov. 24 in the Maui tournament.
Brandenburg's likely starting center, junior Marty Dow, has practiced little because of a bulging disk in his lower back. His only returning starter, guard Michael Best, has not practiced at all. Best is recovering from surgery to remove two screws that were inserted in 1985 to repair a broken leg. And potentially his most physical forward, junior Nelson Stewart, has been slowed since undergoing arthroscopic surgery on both knees early this month.
The injury to Dow, a 7-foot-1 community college transfer from Northeastern Oklahoma A&M;, has Brandenburg considering Sean Jamison, a 6-8 junior transfer from Pratt (Kan.) Community College, at center rather than power forward.
If Jamison plays center and Stewart is less than healthy, the Aztecs are without another true power forward.
"We have a basketball team that unless it changes, will be a different type team than what you've seen the last 11 years," said Brandenburg, who coached nine seasons at Wyoming before moving to SDSU in 1987-88. "You will not see that big, strong inside play."
But whichever way the Aztecs have been practicing, they have been doing it without Best. Brandenburg said he hopes Best, a 6-4 senior, will return to practice this week. When he does, Brandenburg said, his first concern will be getting Best, who weighs 232 pounds, 22 more than his preferred playing weight, in shape.
Texas El Paso was selected as the favorite to win the Western Athletic Conference title in the preseason vote of conference media. The Miners received 26 first-place votes and 266 of a possible 270 points. New Mexico was second as the Lobos received the remaining four first-place votes and 243 points overall. Hawaii was third (193 points), defending champion Colorado State fourth (174), Wyoming fifth (149), Brigham Young sixth (105), Air Force seventh (94), Utah eighth (73) and San Diego State ninth (68). . . . Named to the all-conference preseason team were center Luc Longley of New Mexico, guard Raymond Dudley of Air Force, forward Antonio Davis of UTEP, guard Chris Gaines of Hawaii, center Greg Foster of UTEP and forward Josh Grant of Utah.