With four starters back, there was only one spot open in Cal State Fullerton’s basketball lineup this season, Derek Jones’ power forward spot. And by the second game, Agee Ward had claimed it.
Now, any challenger has to go through him, which won’t be particularly easy, considering Ward possesses the largest shorts the Fullerton equipment crew could locate.
Ward figures he knows what people think when they see him.
At 6-feet-5, he is closer to the height of most guards than most power forwards.
And at 225 pounds, they tell him he is built for football.
“People look at me and say, ‘He’s all fat. He doesn’t jump a lot,’ ” said Ward, a sophomore who was ineligible under the minimum academic standards of Proposition 48 last season.
Ward only has to point to a statistics sheet to show what nonsense that talk is.
He may be only 6-5, but he is outrebounding 6-8 center John Sykes by more than three a game.
Ward is averaging nine rebounds and nine points as well, even though he is only playing about 23 minutes a game for Fullerton (3-0) because he isn’t yet in top condition after a preseason ankle sprain.
Ward averaged 15 points and nine rebounds a game as a senior at Los Angeles Washington High School. And although he played only one year of high school baseball, Ward says with an amount of certainty that he could have played it professionally.
He is probably right. His father is Gary Ward, the two-time All-Star outfielder who finished last season with Detroit.
“I could have played pro baseball because of my name,” Ward said. “But I wanted to tell my kids I succeeded because of who I am and because of what I can do.”
Although he is proud of his father, whom Ward says comes to Fullerton’s games wearing sunglasses and “undercover,” being recognized for his own achievement is important to him.
“The only way I struggle is every time I make something happen, they put his name behind it--like you’re doing right now,” he said.
Ward may yet face competition at his position, particularly when Ronnie Caldwell, a transfer from Washington, becomes eligible in mid-December, possibly in time for the Cal State Northridge game Dec. 16.
“The only thing I see that I can do to make myself stand out is get as many rebounds as I can,” Ward said.
The other thing helping him stand out are his outlet passes to start fast breaks.
"(Other players) hug the ball, bounce the ball,” Coach John Sneed said. “Agee’s outlet pass will bypass four (opponents).”
There was a time when Ward’s prime playing time came after Fullerton’s basketball practices were over last season.
That was when he would hit the court in Titan Gym for two or three hours of pickup ball. Ineligible as a freshman, Ward couldn’t play or practice with the team, but he could watch, and he could work out by himself.
“He was one of those hungry redshirts,” Sneed said. “It killed him not to be able to play.”
Ward learned Fullerton’s system by watching, and he watched senior Derek Jones particularly closely. That was going to be his spot.
And for now, at least, it is.
The volleyball team began this season with a new coach, some new players and new hopes. Things were going to change.
By the end of the fourth match of the Big West Conference schedule, things had changed. The Titans upset San Diego State, ending a 34-match losing streak against conference teams.
But when the season ended recently, the Titans finished with an 8-23 record, 1-17 in the conference.
Except for the one conference victory, it wasn’t much different than last year’s record of 11-24, 0-18.
But Susan Herman, a senior who finished as the school’s career leader in kills, says the Titans made progress even if it didn’t show much in the record, which included an upgraded nonconference schedule.
“I think we only got blown out really twice,” Herman said, referring to matches against Cal State Long Beach and Pacific. “Other than that, we were pretty competitive. . . . We were really close to winning a lot of games, but we never got over the hump. But it was a lot more fun this year. It was more fun because we were more competitive.”
Herman long ago became the career kill leader. Her final total of 1,534 far surpasses Kristen Bowlin’s total of 683.
Last season, she set a school record for kills in a season with 517. This year, she finished with 390.
“Last year, I had a lot of individual goals, like getting 500 kills,” Herman said. “This year I just wanted to win.”
Under first-year Coach Jim Huffman, who replaced Fran Cummings after she resigned under pressure following last season, the Titans “definitely” made progress, Herman said.
“But it was disappointing and frustrating to keep losing,” she said. “We tried new things, a new system, a new coach, new players. . . . “
Fullerton will need to find a new player to replace Herman, who said she will graduate in May with a degree in communications.
But before she begins a career in advertising, she plans to play a bit longer, perhaps for a European professional team.
The Sporting News selected Cal State Fullerton kicker and punter Phil Nevin as the “Head of the Class,” naming him the best freshman kicker or punter in Division I-A. . . . Genia Miller of the women’s basketball team is second in the Big West Conference in scoring with a 23.3-point average. She is averaging 11 rebounds a game and has blocked 12 shots in three games. . . . The women’s basketball team (2-1) plays UCLA in Pauley Pavilion at 7 p.m. Friday in a game that will be broadcast live on KMNY 1600. John Rebenstorf will call the action. . . . The men’s basketball game against Tulsa on Saturday in Titan Gym will be broadcast live on Prime Ticket beginning at 4 p.m.