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Locating <i> Le Basket </i> Isn’t Foreign to French Now

Cal State Fullerton’s basketball team has a player who is French and a player who is named French and if you want to know how to tell the difference, you only need consult the stat sheet.

David Frigout--born in Lorient, France, reared in Evreux, previously schooled at Groupe Pigier University--is still trying to figure out this odd game of ours in his second season in the States. Before Tuesday night’s game against UC Irvine, Frigout was shooting 52% from the field in nine starts.

James French--born in Richmond, previously schooled at the University of Washington--has been shooting basketballs all his life, growing up with the game, having launched hundreds of thousands of jump shots in his 22 years.

So why was he the one looking like a guy casting stale croissants off the roof of Notre Dame cathedral?

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Before Tuesday night, French, the starting point guard at Fullerton, was shooting 20.9% from the field.

Before last Friday’s game at Loyola Marymount, he was at 18%.

French went 1 for 10 from the field against Santa Clara, 0 for 11 against Texas Arlington, 3 for 10 against San Diego State and 1 for 11 against USF. According to the Fullerton basketball media guide, French is majoring in business administration. This comes as something of a surprise to those who would have guessed masonry.

French called it the “worst streak of my life,” which probably goes without saying. A 40.3% shooter last season as a junior, French actually led the Big West Conference in three-point percentage for a month, before Irvine’s Chris Brown ran him down--and everybody else, for that matter.

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So what happened in front of a sparse gathering of 2,108 at the Bren Center Tuesday night bears repeating:

James French, Titan bricklayer extraordinaire, scored 16 points, including seven in the last 4 1/2 minutes, or 14 points more than Brown, who was the nation’s leading three-point producer in 1993-94.

French 16, Brown 2.

Fullerton 74, Irvine 68.

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The Titans, consensus preseason favorites to finish last in the Big West in ’94-95, are now 2-0 in the conference after road victories at Las Vegas and Irvine, which also bears repeating. The last time Fullerton opened 2-0 in the Big West? Leon Wood’s senior season, 1983-84.

“Every win is a great win for our program,” said Fullerton Coach Bob Hawking, who is 4-6 after being thrown the keys to the program by Brad (Get Me Outta Here) Holland on Sept. 22. Hawking didn’t quite know what to expect on that fateful day, but one thing he thought he could count on was a steady hand from the senior point guard directing his offense.

“We all know what a quality player James is,” Hawking said. “We’ve seen it before from him and we’ll see it again.”

But 18% through Dec. 18?

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Barely scratching the 20s a week into conference play?

And still atop that conference at a perfect 2-0?

“We’ve all been waiting for him,” Hawking said. “We all deal with adversity in this game, and James has dealt with it like the man he is. He’s coming around. A game like this should get his confidence going.”

Down the stretch, French was virtually flawless.

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His 17-foot jumper off a screen gave Fullerton a 65-61 lead with 4:24 to play.

His hanging one-handed seven-footer in traffic in the lane made it 69-64 with 1:38 left.

French added three free throws, the final one coming with 13.8 seconds remaining, putting Fullerton up by six.

French thanked his teammates for giving him the ball and, basically, not giving up on him. “They kept giving me good shots,” he said, “trying to get me in the flow.”

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This felt a good deal better than fighting against the current, as French had been doing since November.

“I can tell you, it’s been rough,” French said, managing a grin. “I never really looked at the numbers. I know how badly it was going . . . No matter what I did, nothing was going right.

“I did all the extra shooting I could after practice, everything you’re supposed to do. I was hitting them in practice. But in the games, the ball just seemed to keep rolling and rolling.”

Off the rim, and off the backboard.

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It was good to be back, French had to admit, and contributing to what’s shaping up as a story line worth following a while.

“Coach Hawking’s done a good job,” French said. “He’s got us playing real good defense. That’s his emphasis--defense and stopping them from penetrating.

“Once we get the offense going, this team is going to be real tough in league.”

Getting James French going is the first step in that direction.

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More Mike Penner

* A collection of the most recent columns by Mike Penner can be found on the TimesLink on-line service. Sign on and “jump” to keyword “Penner.”

Details on Times electronic services, B4


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