Opinion: Matador mediocrity – A never-ending story

Matadors head coach Trent Johnson speaks with forward Adam Afifi at the Premier America Credit Union Arena on Nov. 7, 2022, in Northridge, Calif.

Maxwell Clark, Staff Reporter

Since the end of the men’s basketball season in early March, there have been resignations, transfers and even an arrest throughout CSUN’s roster. The team is coming off a turbulent year and has a long way to go to rebuild the image of Matadors basketball.

The Matadors men’s basketball season officially ended after they suffered a heartbreaking loss to CSU Bakersfield in the first round of the Big West tournament. CSUN (7-25, 4-16 Big West Conference) finished second-to-last in the Big West Conference in 2023. This marked the second straight season that the team finished with only seven wins.

One of the first pieces of the team to go was head coach Trent Johnson, who decided to retire after the tumultuous season. Johnson served as the head coach of CSUN for two years, one as interim and one as the official head coach. He finished his tenure with an unimpressive record of 14-48, 7-29 in the Big West conference.

Johnson came in to replace the previous coach, Mark Gottfried, who in April 2021 broke multiple NCAA recruiting rules, which led to his firing. The violations came when he illegally made on-and-off campus contact with prospects during the COVID-19 pandemic, when recruiting was in its dead period. This led to a three-year probation for the coach, as well as a prohibition in which the Matadors were not allowed to communicate with recruits for one week in the 2022-23 season.

CSUN athletics didn’t skip a beat when hiring a new coach. Just over a month after Johnson’s resignation, the athletic department announced that former Cal State San Bernardino head coach Andy Newman will fill the role. Newman comes to CSUN with an overall record of 206-98 as head coach.

The team is set to look a lot different next season with star players Atin Wright, Fidelis Okereke and Dionte Bostick entering the transfer portal. Okereke has committed to CSU Bakersfield, while the other two are undecided as of now. The athletes led in major statistical categories for the Matadors this season. Wright was the leading scorer with 16.7 points per game, Bostick led the team in assists with 2.7 per game and Okereke led the team in rebounds with 5.1 per game.

Wright had one of his worst outings for the Matadors in the final game of the season against Bakersfield, finishing with 10 points on 3-17 shooting. Wright leaves after tallying over 1,000 points for CSUN in his three seasons with the program.

Okereke is leaving the Matadors for a team that finished two spots ahead of them in the Big West standings, with a record of 11-22. Okereke is a huge force on the court and was likely under-utilized in his role at CSUN. The 6-foot-6-inch, 260-pound forward should have been able to muster more than 4.4 points and 0.6 blocks per game.

Just over a week after the end of the basketball season, things only got worse for the program. Guard De’Sean Allen-Eikens’ name started circling around the media after he was arrested in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. The reasoning for Eikens arrest was that he reportedly punched a police officer. As if the season could not have ended worse for the basketball team, one of the returning players was now in police custody.

He ended up being released on a $1,000 bond and is still listed on the roster.

CSUN is losing key pieces of an already abysmal roster. The future of the basketball team looks bleak at best. The new coaching hire is a promising step, but more has to be done. A big time splash in the transfer window or intense recruiting of high school players is something that the team desperately needs in order to find some success.

It is not an easy task for a college like Northridge to find quality basketball players to lead them to productive seasons, especially when those they do recruit seem to last only a season or two before transferring out. The team seems to be a steppingstone for players to go on to more accomplished programs. The probation period that was put into place two years ago does not help the Matadors with their recruitment troubles either.

Mediocrity has become a standard for men’s basketball here at CSUN. The team has not finished with a record above .500 since the 2008-09 season, nearly 15 years ago. It is looking unlikely that we will see a successful basketball season in 2023-24, but what the team should be striving for throughout this rebuild is improvement. Improvement should not be hard to achieve seeing how these last few Matadors seasons went.