Holland Is Focusing on Recruiting : College basketball: Titans, who finished with 15-12 record and did not receive NIT bid, will lose four of five starters.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Brad Holland stayed at home on Sunday, away from the Big West Conference tournament championship game and the ESPN television cameras, knowing that by nightfall he would be disappointed.

The first-year Cal State Fullerton basketball coach was well aware that the telephone call from the National Invitation Tournament was not going to come, but a guy could hope, couldn't he?

He ran through the scenarios in his head, figuring angles and counting teams. But at 15-12, the Titans finished Holland's rookie season as a head coach at least one and probably two victories away from an NIT berth.

New York never did call and, anyway, by the time the NIT begins later this week, Holland will not have time to pay attention. Start spreadin' the news: Holland's game plan this spring centers around one word.

Recruiting.

Sure, the early returns on Holland's first season are favorable. But if the bullet is to remain next to his name on the nation's coaching chart, his salesmanship behind the scenes this spring is equally as important as his X's and O's during the past winter.

"This spring is real critical to us," Holland said. "We need to do a great job in the (community college) market and replace some front-line guys with guys with equal or better talent so we can be competitive in the conference next year."

Four of Fullerton's five starters are seniors, and each loss will hurt badly. The departures:

--Forward Bruce Bowen, who finished his career ranked 10th on Fullerton's career scoring list and sixth on the career rebounding list.

--Forward Kim Kemp, who led the team in rebounding.

--Center Sean Williams, who set a school record with 66 blocked shots.

--Point guard Aaron Sunderland, who now ranks fifth on Fullerton's career assist list.

Those losses are further magnified because Fullerton's bench is about as deep as the sand in your cat's litterbox. Greg Vernon led the Fullerton bench in minutes played, and he averaged a mere 10 per game. By the end of the season, Holland was using a seven-man rotation.

Bowen, despite a stress fracture in his right foot suffered on Feb. 6, led the Big West in minutes played at 36.6 per game. Kemp was the starter who averaged the least number of minutes, and he was still at 31.6--more, for example, than everyone on the regular-season Big West champion New Mexico State team except point guard Sam Crawford.

"I think we had a successful season," Holland said. "We were close to having a very successful season. But the lack of depth . . . getting in foul trouble, the stress fractures, the suspensions (in the Houston game). That maybe added up to a couple of more losses."

The Titans have five scholarships to offer, and Holland will be happy if they can sign four quality players.

"If we sign five, we did very well," Holland said.

Fullerton is recruiting some high school players, but the focus is on community college players. When practice opens next Nov. 1, the Titans will need players who can step in immediately.

The only returning front-court player is Todd Satalowich (9.6 minutes, 1.6 rebounds, 0.6 points per game).

Otherwise, off-guard Don Leary, who collected a school-record 89 three-pointers this season, will return, and the Titans hope James French, who redshirted after transferring from the University of Washington, will offer the skills needed to replace Sunderland at point guard.

French started for 1 1/2 years at Washington, including all 28 games as a freshman.

Were the Titans deeper, maybe the NIT would be beckoning. Losses to UC Irvine, Pacific and San Jose State all could be attributed partially to the non-productive bench, and a loss to Houston probably could have been avoided had three starters not been suspended for breaking curfew.

"It would have been a tremendous achievement for this team to go to postseason play," Holland said. "We were close to doing it.

"One of our goals was to give it everything we had, and to be this close is frustrating for all of us. But we're trying to remember we had a successful year . . .

"We had some excellent wins. I think we've got something to build on in recruiting."

Through his career as a player, assistant coach and head coach, from high school to college to the NBA and back to college again, Holland has never been associated with a losing team. And these Titans were picked in preseason polls to finish ninth in the conference.

"When we started the season, we were saying to ourselves, 'Wow, what if we have a 5-22 season?"' Holland said. "Everybody was telling us, 'You guys have got a few players, but you're probably not going to be very good.'

"Never having been associated with a losing season, that thought was scary. It was neat to come out on the winning end."

But that is so much history, now, and one thought will likely be driving Holland throughout his recruiting travels during the next month: To avoid something like 5-22 next season, the Titans had better get some players.

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