Titans Recall Amazing Streak

TIMES STAFF WRITER

They say it seems like only yesterday when they made that amazing run, coming as close as one basket of reaching the Final Four.

They were players on a team that came out of nowhere in the 1978 NCAA basketball tournament and became known as "Cal State Who?"

"It's hard to believe that it has been 20 years," said Greg Bunch, one of the stars on that Cal State Fullerton team.

Bunch was watching a tape of one of the games recently with his 8- and 9-year-old daughters, and they both burst into laughter.

"Look how skinny you are, Dad," said one. "And look at that hair."

Bunch says he couldn't help smiling at the short pants and the hairstyles that were popular at the time.

But the memories came rushing back, like a floodgate to the past had suddenly opened.

And then it did seem like just yesterday when the Titans, seeded third in the Pacific Coast Athletic Assn. tournament, accomplished what no one thought was possible.

The team coached by Bobby Dye won the conference championship at the Anaheim Convention Center, then won two consecutive hard-fought games in the NCAA tournament, knocking off basketball powers New Mexico with Michael Cooper and San Francisco with Bill Cartwright. Fullerton came within a shot of beating Arkansas and Sidney Moncrief in the West Regional title game.

The Titans trailed by a point in the final seconds. Guard Keith Anderson dribbled across the center line with a chance to win it, just as he had done a game earlier against San Francisco with three seconds left. But this time an Arkansas defender stole the ball and scored.

"I still think about that last play all the time," Anderson said. "I always wonder what would have happened if I had stopped and shot the ball. I had a shot, but I wanted to get a tad closer. I thought I was fouled on the play when they stole the ball. But if I had it to do over again, I would have done the same thing."

It was a disappointment to come so close to a basketball miracle, but no one could complain about the ride. "We all realized, I think, just how far we'd come," Anderson said.

And then life goes on.

Dye coached at Fullerton two more seasons. The next year the Titans won 15 of their first 18 games, and everyone was wondering if history might repeat, but the Titans won only one of their last nine and lost their first game of the conference tournament. Dye's next team was 10-17, and he resigned.

"I thought I needed a break," Dye said recently. "Sometimes when the pressure builds a guy needs that."

Dye resurfaced at Cal State Bakersfield a year later, and coached two teams to the NCAA Division II final four. He moved to Boise State and led the Broncos to the NCAA tournament three times. When he resigned in 1995, he was the winningest coach in Big Sky Conference history.

But his retirement from coaching was short-lived.

Dye is back on the sidelines again with the Idaho Stampede, a Continental Basketball Assn. team based in Nampa, Idaho, 12 miles west of Boise. George Barrios, a freshman player on the 1978 Fullerton team, is his assistant general manager after serving with him at Boise State.

Dye says a friend from his Boise State days, William Ilett, talked him into coaching the Stampede when the team was formed. Ilett is managing investor of the franchise.

"It's the second-best basketball league in the world, and I think it's the most interesting," Dye said. "It's very underrated in terms of talent."

Said Barrios: "It's just great to seem him back in coaching, and a pleasure to watch him motivate players again. That's what he's really good at."

The players from Fullerton's 1978 have gone their separate ways.

Today, Anderson works for Southern California Edison as a field service representative. He had a free-agent tryout with the Golden State Warriors, but didn't make the team.

Anderson still plays basketball on Edison's company team along with several former college players. He also plays in recreation leagues in his old neighborhood in Los Angeles. He attended Verbum Dei High and played with future UCLA stars David Greenwood and Roy Hamilton.

Bunch, one of Fullerton's leading career scorers, was drafted in the NBA's second round by the New York Knicks, but he played only half a season before being waived. Bunch spent the next five years playing in Europe.

"After my third year playing in Spain, I knew I needed to start on a regular career," he said.

Bunch's first job was selling cable television door to door, and he has advanced in positions with ESPN, DirectTV and most recently with NBC cable services as a director of affiliate sales and marketing.

Kevin Heenan, who wore welder's-type glasses to protect an injured eye during his playing days, is a real estate broker, specializing in apartment sales, financing and property management with an office in Newport Beach. He married a former Titan women's basketball player, Debbie Ricketts, and also is involved in her family's business, which manufactures novelty ice cream confections.

Heenan played one year with Athletes In Action after college and in France for one season.

"But then I got into work and just never went back," Heenan said. "But I still enjoy the game, and I play it when I can."

Steve Shaw, the team's starting center who was a transfer from El Camino College, is a physical education teacher at Redondo Beach High. He was the school's head boys' basketball coach for seven years and an assistant at El Camino for five, but isn't coaching now.

"This is my second year out of coaching, but I'm looking to get back into it," Shaw said. "I decided to take some time away from it for a while to spend more time with my daughters, who are 8 and 10."

Daryl Roper, a sophomore reserve for Fullerton in 1978, also went into coaching. Roper has been boys' coach at Santa Monica Crossroads High for nine years. He has also had some roles in television commercials and a few bit parts in movies.

Roper worked on Michael Jordan's "Space Jam" movie as an animation subject and had a brief appearance in the film in a nonspeaking role. "I just enjoyed spending a month around Michael, trying to pick his brain and watching him," Roper said.

Roper also plays in some Los Angeles recreational leagues, where he ended up guarding one of his former players--UCLA freshman point guard Baron Davis--in one of the league's championship games. "I'll see Keith Anderson around there now and then too," Roper said.

None of them has kept in touch with Michael Linden from Yonkers, N.Y., whom Dye recruited from Riverside Community College.

Linden is in prison at the Otisville (N.Y.) Correctional Facility, serving a term of 15 years to life for the criminal sale of a controlled substance. He has been in custody since 1986, and will not be eligible for parole until September 2001, according to a spokesman for the New York prison system.

Equally tragic is the story of Mike Niles, who is serving a life sentence without the possibility of parole in the state correctional facility in Tehachapi.

Niles was convicted in 1989 on charges that he hired a hit man to kill his wife, Sonja, outside her home in Corona for the money from a $100,000 life insurance policy. His son, Brandon, an infant when his father left him and his mother, also was killed--a result of gang violence in 1992.

"It's just tragic when something like that happens." said Bunch. "I don't try to judge it."

Said Roper: "For one time in our life, we shared special moments, but we didn't all come out of it the same way."

But they all have those same memories of that remarkable run.

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