COLLEGE BASKETBALL: 1993-94 SEASON PREVIEW : Fullerton Goes Back to Basics : Titans: Picked to finish last in Big West, inexperienced team will focus on fundamentals.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Tuesday afternoon, a few hours before Cal State Fullerton's season-opening exhibition game, the door to Titan Coach Brad Holland's office was shut as tight as a post office door on Veterans Day.

Holland and assistants Bob Hawking, Chris Brazier and George Tuttle were inside going over last minute details.

Such as, who would start?

Yes, 11 days before their season opener Dec. 4 at Wyoming, things are still that basic for the Titans. No matter how many cards Holland and his staff shuffle, they keep turning up the same way:

The Titans have no starters returning from last year's 15-12 team. And you can cover the rest of their returning players quicker than you can finish a sneeze. There are only two: guard-forward Greg Vernon (2.3 points, 1.2 rebounds per game last season) and forward-center Todd Satalowich (0.7 points, 1.7 rebounds).

Over and out.

"I feel like a first-year coach now that's taking over a program that is down," said Holland, who enters his second season. "We are truly rebuilding now. Any team that loses five starters. . . .

"We're going through, in my mind, the ultimate challenge as a coaching staff. We don't have time on our side."

Already, the Titans--who also have only one player taller than 6 feet 7--have been picked to finish 10th in the Big West by the conference's coaches, media and every preseason college basketball publication.

"We're going over zone offense, man offense, who can score from the perimeter, how we can score," Holland said. "That's what we're going through right now. That should be done already."

Four seniors started for the Titans last season, so their departures were expected. Not expected, though, was the departure of shooting guard Don Leary, who would have been a senior but dropped out of school over the summer.

"It's a shock," Vernon said. "Sometimes I'm out there during practice looking for guys on the team last year, and they're not there."

Leary, who had grade problems last spring and then elected not to attend summer school, led the Big West with an average of 3.3 three-point field goals per game. Fullerton followers still talk about the night he drilled eight, tying the Titan school record, during a 90-82 loss at UCLA.

Fullerton undoubtedly will miss Leary as much as departed starters Bruce Bowen (16.3 points per game), Aaron Sunderland (13.4 points, 5.8 assists), Sean Williams (13.3 points, six rebounds) and Kim Kemp (9.9 points, 7.9 rebounds).

"We're not going to be able to replace Don Leary and his attributes," Holland said. "To me, he was one of the best shooters in the nation.

"Unfortunately, that's a question mark in our program right now, a legitimate three-point threat. We have some decent perimeter players, some kids who can shoot a little bit, but no Don Leary."

Instead, in addition to Vernon and Satalowich, the Titans have three community college transfers, another who is expected to become eligible at the semester break in December, two freshmen (two more are injured and out for the season), a transfer from Washington, a transfer from Groupe Pigier University in France and a walk-on.

They will probably start Vernon and James French (who started 37 games and played in 55 in two seasons at Washington) at guard and Winston Peterson (who averaged 19.6 points and 12.3 rebounds last season at San Jacinto Community College in Texas), Darren Little (16.6 points and 10.9 rebounds last season at Palomar College in San Diego) and freshman Josh King (19.3 points, 10 rebounds, four assists, two blocked shots at Jesuit High in Carmichael) on the front line.

Vernon, Little and Chris St. Clair, a freshman from Sonora High, have been Fullerton's best shooters in practice. King also has shown encouraging signs, according to Holland.

Still . . .

"It's a lot of learning right now," Holland said. "Learning about each other, learning about our system.

"It's learning how to play together and learning what's the best shot for a particular situation."

The coaches have their share of education to soak up, too.

"We're going to find out in the next two or three weeks just how deep this team is," Holland said. "I'm hoping we can go with a nine- or 10-man rotation. It just depends on what we're able to do in the next two or three weeks."

Said Vernon: "I think we're closer than we were last year, as a matter of fact. Last year, there were a lot of niches and cliques. Now, nobody knows each other, and we're all trying to get to know everyone. There's more chemistry. It seems like we're coming together stronger."

So, in the early-going, what Fullerton's season comes down to is this: Shooting, rebounding and defense are question marks.

Otherwise, hey, these Titans like each other.

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