When a team finishes last in a conference as sub-par as the Big West was this season, it's not far from rock bottom.
And that's where Cal State Fullerton is. The Titan men's basketball team was 6-20, with five victories coming in a conference that was 30-50 against outside Division I competition. This week, one computer-generated rating of college teams had Fullerton 247th out of 305 teams.
It was the third consecutive season Fullerton hasn't reached double digits in victories. The Titans were 8-19 and 7-20 the previous two seasons, one under Brad Holland and the other with Bob Hawking as interim coach. This was the first season of Hawking's three-year contract, and the record is the school's worst since George McQuarn's first team was 4-23 in 1981.
"Nobody hates losing any more than I do," Hawking said. "And nobody is going to work any harder than I am to do something about it."
In the two years Hawking has been in charge, he has probably gotten as much from his players as anyone could expect. But if the Titans are to return to even the .500 level and middle-of-the-pack status in the Big West, it's going to take a talent implant.
"One of the things we did after the first of the year was to put almost the total focus of both our full-time assistants on recruiting," Hawking said. The best thing Hawking can offer is the opportunity for a quality player to impact the program immediately. But it's probably going to take a break for that to happen, the kind San Jose State got when Olivier Saint-Jean transferred there primarily because of his friendship with an assistant coach.
It's hard to sell the Big West as a conference on the rise in basketball, because it isn't. And the conference made it more difficult for teams at the bottom to battle their way up when they reduced the number eligible for the postseason tournament to six.
Hawking can't sell a sparkling playing facility, because Fullerton doesn't have one. Since Fullerton's last appearance in the NCAA playoffs in 1978, every school in the Big West has improved its playing site or come into the conference with one better than outdated Titan Gym.
There have been some indications that permanent chair seats could be added to Titan Gym as soon as this summer, and that certainly would help, but those plans remain uncertain.
What the Titans need more than anything is a center who can be a factor offensively and defensively.
Put that type of player with the others that Fullerton has, and there could be improvement. John Williams could be more of force next season with someone helping him inside, and Fullerton's perimeter shooters would face less defensive pressure.
Hawking says he has no doubt the Titans could have done better this season with more depth. That was a problem before the season when forward David Frigout decided to pass up his final season of eligibility to play professionally in his native France, and top freshman recruit Brian Montonati became homesick and left school 10 days after arriving on campus. Transfer Maurice Madison also left when he failed to conform to Hawking's expectations.
Then guard Chris St. Clair, the team's most consistent three-point shooter and the team's second-leading scorer the previous season, never returned to full strength after off-season knee surgery and decided to seek a medical redshirt year after the fifth game. Another guard, Brian Thomas, missed 12 games with foot problems, and freshman Mark Richardson sat out the final six games with a fractured finger. Williams also had foot problems in the final few games.
"I think that attrition was definitely a factor in our record," Hawking said. "Our kids worked really hard, and we were competitive in most games, especially in conference. Everyone wants it to include more respectability, and I believe that will come."
Fullerton loses only senior Chuck Overton, the leading scorer with a 15.8 average, and will add redshirt forward Wyki Tyson, a 6-8 transfer from Eastern Kentucky, along with new recruits. The Titans have one commitment from guard Dane Plock of Estancia High.
"I said when I took this job that it wasn't going to happen overnight," Hawking said, "but I can say right now that there will be progress next year, and it will show in our won-lost record."
The women's basketball team (7-20) also struggled this season, winning only one more game than the men. The Titans were 4-14 in conference play but finished eighth, a game ahead of San Jose State and Nevada Las Vegas.
The women went through the same growing pains as the men, when Coach Debbie Ayres made a strong commitment to young players in a rebuilding year. The Titans also lost freshman Erin Whiteside with torn knee ligaments before the season, and transfer Kathy Hankee was dropped from the team for violating a team rule. Two other freshmen, center Kari Kron and Lee Moulin, quit the team for personal reasons.
Ayres will rebuild around three current freshmen: point guard Andrea Thieme, forward Justine McMahan and forward Dee Braxton. But leading scorer Shayla Bradshaw completed her eligibility, finishing second only to Genia Miller in career scoring with 1,734 points.
"I think the future looks bright," Ayres said. "We're still in need of a true center, and we could use another strong shooter since we have to replace Shayla."