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Cal Baptist men's basketball will have no fear as it plays at Division I level for first time

Cal Baptist men's basketball will have no fear as it plays at Division I level for first time
Cal State Fullerton guard Kyle Allman Jr. (0) drives past UC Irvine guard Evan Leonard (14) in the Big West men's tournament championship in Anaheim on March 10, 2018. Fullerton won, 71-55. (Reed Saxon / Associated Press)

California Baptist coach Rick Croy set a mantra as his men’s basketball team prepares for its inaugural season as a Division I program: Be fearless.

“And, ‘Go attack it,’ ” Croy said.

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Cal Baptist’s reclassification as a Division I school was accepted in July, the product of a roughly seven-year plan, a university official said. The Riverside school used Grand Canyon University as a model for the transition.

Croy recruited a roster of freshmen and transfers with Division I experience, including Mike Henn, a redshirt sophomore forward from UC Davis, and Ferron Flavors, a junior guard from Fairfield University. Fifth-year senior Jordan Heading is the Lancers’ only four-year player.

Cal Baptist went 28-6 and reached the quarterfinals in the Division II playoffs last season.

The school spent the last two years transforming the program to mirror that of a Division I school by scheduling tougher competition and adding summer workouts to the team’s routine. Croy said his players welcomed the added responsibility.

“It comes down to all of them embracing the opportunity and the challenge together, and that’s what we wanted to have stepping into this,” Croy said.

The Lancers, who will play in the Western Athletic Conference, won’t be eligible to play in the postseason until the 2022-23 season. They open this season Friday at home against San Diego Christian.

A look at the other Southland teams in Division I:

Cal State Fullerton

Last season: 20-12, fourth in Big West Conference; lost in first round of NCAA tournament.

Key players: Kyle Allman Jr. (19.5 points per game), Khalil Ahmad (15.1 ppg).

Outlook: Seniors Allman and Ahmad were selected to the Big West preseason all-conference team.The Titans, who won the Big West tournament last season to earn an NCAA tournament berth, are ranked second in the conference’s preseason poll.

Cal State Northridge

Last season: 6-24, ninth in Big West.

Key players: Terrell Gomez (11.7 ppg), Darius Brown (Pasadena High)

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Outlook: In his first season coaching Northridge, Mark Gottfried leads a struggling program that lost its two top scorers, forward Tavrion Dawson and guard Micheal Warren. Last season, the Matadors posted their worst record since becoming a Division I program. Gomez, last season’s conference freshman of the year, is the Matadors’ only returning starter.

Long Beach State

Last season: 15-18, fifth in Big West.

Key players: Bryan Alberts (11.3 ppg), Deishuan Booker (10.6 ppg).

Outlook: Long Beach State lost its leading scorer, forward Gabe Levin, but returns Alberts and Booker while adding three-star freshman forward Demetrius Mims. Guard Ron Freeman, a redshirt junior transfer from Northwest Florida State College, adds depth in the backcourt.

UC Irvine

Last season: 18-17, second in Big West.

Key players: Evan Leonard (13.6 ppg), Tommy Rutherford (10.1 ppg).

Outlook: The top-ranked team in the Big West preseason poll, Irvine is led by Leonard and Rutherford, who were selected to the preseason all-conference team. Robert Cartwright, a graduate transfer guard from Stanford, joins the Anteaters along with four freshman recruits. All five of last season’s starters will play for Irvine, which lost to Fullerton in the conference tournament title game.

UC Riverside

Last season: 9-22, seventh in Big West.

Key players: Dikymbe Martin (13.5 ppg), Jordan Gilliam (junior college transfer).

Outlook: Martin, a junior guard who was Riverside’s leading scorer last season, is the team’s only returning starter. But a talented recruiting class surrounds him, including five freshmen and Gilliam, a sophomore point guard from Salt Lake Community College.

UC Santa Barbara

Last season: 23-9, second in Big West.

Key players: Max Heidegger (19.1 ppg), Amadou Sow (Prolific Prep).

Outlook: Heidegger is Santa Barbara’s only returning starter. Transfer guards JaQuori McLaughlin, a sophomore from Oregon State, and Ar’Mond Davis, a graduate transfer from Alabama, will boost the Gauchos’ backcourt.

Loyola Marymount

Last season: 11-20, eighth in West Coast Conference.

Key players: James Batemon, (17.8 ppg), Eli Scott (12.6 ppg, 7.3 rpg).

Outlook: Batemon is one of three seniors returning for the Lions. Senior guard Jeffrey McClendon led the conference in steals last year. Loyola Marymount returns 10 scorers responsible for 84% of last season’s point total.

Pepperdine

Last season: 6-26, 10th in West Coast.

Key players: Kameron Edwards (14.7 ppg, 6.4 rpg), Colbey Ross (14 ppg).

Outlook: Pepperdine returns its top three scorers from last season — junior forward Edwards, sophomore guard Ross and senior guard Eric Cooper. Ross set the school record for assists by a freshman with 179.

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