Tony McGee is the tallest player on the Cal State Los Angeles basketball team, a distinction that means little when tracking his movement about the court.
The 6-foot-8 McGee is as likely to be found playing the perimeter as the lane. The Golden Eagle offense is designed to free McGee from the confines of post play.
“Tony plays on the wing,” Cal State L.A. Coach Henry Dyer said. “That gives him the opportunity not to be stuck on the box.”
McGee is just happy that he is not stuck on the bench.
That’s where the former Azusa High and Mt. San Antonio College player spent much of last season for Cal State Long Beach. McGee averaged 4.1 points and 1.5 rebounds in 20 games for the NCAA Division I 49ers, playing an average of 11 minutes a game.
After the season, McGee and Long Beach Coach Seth Greenberg agreed that a change of scenery for McGee would do both of them well. Dyer welcomed McGee to Cal State L.A. with open arms.
“He is the most physically talented player I’ve had since I’ve been here,” said Dyer, who is in his sixth season with the Golden Eagles.
McGee, a senior, is averaging 22.7 points a game. Along with senior Derek Knowles, junior Mark Greene and others, McGee has helped lead Cal State L.A. to its best start since the 1978-79 season. The Golden Eagles, who finished with a 10-17 record last season, were 12-4 as of Friday. They played Cal Poly Pomona Saturday night.
“I feel at home here,” said McGee, who also averaging 5.3 rebounds. “I’m getting to be one of the top players again, and that feels good.
“Last year (at Long Beach) I kind of faded out. Now things are being opened up for me and I’m getting more into it. That’s what I’m enjoying the most.”
Those associated with the Cal State L.A. program are enjoying the Golden Eagles’ early season success, but no one is happier than Dyer. For the first time since he took over the program, Dyer has a collection of players that appears to have a legitimate shot at winning a conference title.
Bakersfield is the favorite to repeat as CCAA champion, but Dyer said his team should not be counted out. The top four teams in the CCAA qualify for a conference tournament that determines NCAA playoff participants.
Knowles, a swingman from Long Beach, is Cal State L.A.'s top returning player. Last season he averaged 15.6 points a game and was named second-team all-conference. This season, he is averaging 21.7 points.
Greene, who played at Ganesha High and Mt. SAC, is averaging 10 points and making 61% of his shots.
“For us, it’s going to come down to running our half-court offense and our team defense,” said Dyer, who entered this season with a 40-94 record at Cal State L.A. “Bakersfield is strong, but if we do what we’re supposed to do, we can beat anybody.”
Much of the Golden Eagles’ hope lies with McGee, who was an All-Southern Section player at Azusa, where he averaged 25.6 points and 11 rebounds a game.
At Mt. SAC, McGee averaged 22 points and eight rebounds his sophomore season and was considered one of the top community college big men in the state.
For all of his talent, though, McGee is a long way from realizing his potential.
“Tony has the same range Tracy Murray has, and he’s just as quick,” Dyer said. “If he could pick up his defense, he would be a great player at this level. That’s what I’m trying to do, make him a complete player. But it’s up to Tony.”
McGee said he is ready to accept the challenge of improving himself as a player and leading Cal State L.A. to the playoffs. He appreciates Dyer’s willingness to counsel him and is looking forward to continuing his career somewhere on the professional level after this season.
“Coach Dyer talks to me about the good and bad,” McGee said. “He tells it like it is and I try to listen.
“From what I’ve heard and read in the paper, Bakersfield is the team we have to beat to take the conference. I want to help us do that and then go on to another level. I just want to play.”