With back-to-back appearances in the NCAA Division II Final Four tournament, including a second-place finish in 1990, the Cal State Bakersfield men’s basketball team has been a heartbeat away from a national title the past two seasons.
This could be the season that the Roadrunners finally win the title.
The Roadrunners, who were ranked No. 6 in a preseason poll of small colleges by Street & Smith magazine, are regarded as the clear-cut choice to win the California Collegiate Athletic Assn. title and one of the early favorites in Division II.
Bakersfield, which went 25-8 last season and won a share of its second consecutive CCAA title., has four starters returning--including 6-foot-9 center Russell Jarvis, a preseason All-American selection. The Roadrunners also have another talented forward, Beau Redstone, and outstanding guards Fred Eckles and Kenny Warren.
OTHER CCAA TEAMS
While Bakersfield is the team to beat for the title, perennial contender UC Riverside is not too far behind. The Highlanders, who posted a 22-7 record and earned a share of the CCAA regular season title and with a berth in the Division II playoffs last season, also have four starters returning. They are guards Gene Altamirano and Marcellus Smith and forwards Anthony Jenkins and Chris Hantgin. Forward Kevin Tate started two seasons ago before redshirting last season.
Cal Poly Pomona has big shoes to fill with the graduation of CCAA player of the year Terry Ross at forward. But the Broncos, 15-14 and tied for third in the CCAA last season, may have the conference’s best pair of guards--Chancellor McCobb and Andre Harrell. Toss in swing man Ken Scalmanini and junior college transfers Russ May and Damon Ballard at forward and the Broncos have the personnel to remain competitive.
After finishing fifth in the CCAA last season despite a 16-11 overall record, Cal State Dominguez Hills hopes the return of four starters will strengthen its chances for a conference title. The Toros return their front line of Michael Moore, Vincent Washington and John Brown, and guard Raymond Bennett. The addition of transfers Rick Robison from El Camino College and Josh Oppenheimer from Northern Arizona should also help.
Cal Poly San Luis Obispo went 14-14 and reached the conference postseason tournament last season and the Mustangs appear to have a good shot at postseason play again. The Mustangs should be particularly strong at guard with the return of starters Matt Clawson, Bill Archer and Jeff Oliver, and they have a talented 6-8 center, Shawn Kirkeby.
It would be difficult to find a better small college forward than Chapman’s Roger Middleton, who averaged 20.6 points as a junior. With the return of Franz Reyes and the addition of 6-8 Marcell Driver and 6-6 Leonard Rhodes, the Panthers will be bigger up front. The question for Chapman, 12-15 overall and last in the CCAA last season, is its untested backcourt.
In its first season in Division II, Cal State San Bernardino could have a few surprises under first-year Coach Reggie Morris--who has had successful stops at Manual Arts High and L.A. City College. With a host of transfers, the Coyotes should bear little resemblance to the team that was 6-20 last season. Leaders in San Bernardino’s up-tempo offense should include newcomers Marcus Nash at forward and Develle Walker at guard.
With only two starters and five lettermen returning from a team that was 12-15 overall and finished in a tie for fifth in the conference last season, Cal State Los Angeles could have its problems. The Golden Eagles expect to be led by front-line players Chris Brooks and Jerome Robertson.
NAIA DISTRICT III
It was no coincidence that Biola recaptured its winning form with the return of longtime Coach Dave Holmquist last season. Holmquist has an 11-year record of 301-66 and Biola is regarded by coaches as the preseason favorite in the NAIA District 3.
The Eagles, whose 26-7 record was best in the district, should be a title contender behind district player of the year Emilio Kovacic. He joins forwards Jeff Baker (6-9), Rodney Camper and Mike Coffin on an experienced front line. Doug Newby returns at guard.
In a remarkable 26-year career, Westmont Coach Chet Kammerer has 520 wins--an average of 20 per season--including a 22-10 mark and the District 3 title last season. But with only one starter returning from a team that reached the NAIA national tournament--center Greg Zuanich--Kammerer’s skills will be put to a test. The Warriors return guard Deron Oates and forward Nate Shea-han, and have a top transfer, forward Marlon Jones from Kentucky Wesleyan.
Another district coach with a knack for winning is Southern California College’s Bill Reynolds, 226-90 in 10 seasons at the school. The Vanguards, 24-8 last season, have graduated all-district center Jeff Bickmore but they return starting forwards Mike Henjum and Mike West. Guard Rick Witmer, a solid shooter, has also rejoined the team after a year’s absence and the Vanguards have promising transfer Keith Randolph at forward.
Bolstered by the return of its top nine players from a squad that finished 22-15, The Master’s has every reason to believe this is the season it can win a district title. The offensive leaders are forwards Jason Webster, Stu Epperson and Tom Bruner. The Mustangs also have an excellent rebounder, forward Joe Jon Bryant, and a good floor leader, guard Damon Greer.
The biggest hurdle for Cal Baptist may be overcoming a difficult schedule that includes 20 road games and eight NCAA Division II opponents. The Lancers return three starters from a squad that went 17-13 last season--point guard Lance Williams, swing man Warren Daniels and forward Neil Zwart. Two top transfers are guard Kenny Jones and center Mike Hobbs.
After posting 402 wins in 23 seasons at the high school level, former Long Beach Millikan Coach Bill Odell is hoping to produce similar success at Azusa Pacific. The Cougars, 12-18 last season, will build around returning starters Pat McMann at center and Willie Franks and Keith Hollimon at forward. The top newcomer may be guard Earic Peters, a transfer from Santa Monica College.
With its top scorers having graduated, Christ College Irvine may find it a challenge to equal its 13-18 mark of last season. The Eagles will rely on returning sophomores Corey Smith at guard and Brian Hazelwood at forward, and newcomers such as swing man Doug Grove and forward D’Andre Brown.
There is a new look to the Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference with the addition of Cal Lutheran, which appears to have the personnel to make a memorable debut.
The Kingsmen have one of the premier offensive players in Division III, guard Jeff deLaveaga, who averaged 27.9 points in earning NAIA All-American honors last season. The Kingsmen also will rely on center Simon O’Donnell, forward Kelly Crosby and guard Omar White.
If deLaveaga is the best offensive player in the SCIAC, the top all-around player might be 6-6 guard Chris Greene of Claremont-Mudd-Scripps. Greene earned SCIAC player of the year honors as a junior, averaging 22.5 points, to lead the Stags to a share of the conference title and a berth in the NCAA Division III playoffs. Claremont, 22-5 last season, also returns forwards Dominic Nappi and Ryan McKee and guard Dan Zanotti as it bids for its fifth trip to the Division III playoffs in the past six seasons.
It will be difficult for La Verne to match its success of last season, when it went 18-9 and tied with Claremont for the SCIAC title only to lose to the Stags in a conference playoff and miss out on an NCAA bid. But the Leopards should still be a title contender with the return of starting guards Etop Udo-Ema and Matt Hatten. Two others returning are reserve guards John DeRouen and Mario Smith.
Redlands also should contend with four starters returning from a team that went 15-11 and 5-7. All-SCIAC guard Jeff Sofro was second in the conference with a 22.7-point average last season. The other returnees are point guard Brad Jaques and forwards Brett Grebing and David Purdy.
With the return of three starters, Occidental has talent, although the team may have to struggle to match last year’s third-place finish in the conference. The Tigers, who were 14-12 and 7-5, are led by All-SCIAC forward Sandy Brown. Two other top players are forward Blair Slattery and guard Hung Duong, who both started as freshmen.
Pomona-Pitzer finished in the middle of the pack in the SCIAC last season at 11-15 and 6-6 and the outlook is for more of the same. The Sagehens return three starters, including All-SCIAC forward Bill Cover, who was one of the top inside players in the conference as a freshman. They also return guards Troy Roelen and Brian Christianson, and forward Jon Myers.
Despite the fact that Whittier lost eight players from a team that went 8-18 and finished sixth in the conference last season, the Poets have reason for optimism with the return of 6-10 center Arthur Phillips, guard Tony Strickland and forwards Rob Willbanks and Donnie Clark.
Caltech did not win a conference game last season, finishing at 5-19 and 0-12 in the SCIAC, and the outlook doesn’t appear any better for the Beavers this season.