Last season the Cal State Northridge men’s basketball team put themselves on the map by almost knocking off the mighty Tigers of Memphis in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. Getting to the Big Dance didn’t come easy for the Matadors.
First they had to overcome losing their leading scorer Deon Tresvant, who was accused of stealing merchandise from a Best Buy in Porter Ranch on New Year’s Day. Then their starting point guard Josh Jenkins got injured in a car accident on Valentine’s Day and was unable to play the final nine games.
Both Tresvant and Jenkins graduated, along with key players who led CSUN to its second consecutive Big West regular season title including Tremaine Townsend, Rob Haynes and Rodrigue Mels. With all that talent gone, many people are wondering who will step up to give CSUN a chance to return to the NCAA Tournament.
This year head coach Bobby Braswell, now entering his 14th season, has the challenge of teaching the new players his system and getting them to connect with the returnees.
“These guys are kind of like little babies that are just kind of listening and taking everything and learning,” Braswell said. “They don’t really question a lot of things and there just really focused on doing what they need to do.”
Seniors Kenny Daniels, Willie Galick and Mark Hill will be the leaders for the Matadors and if they have a stand out 2009-10 season CSUN could be in store for another appearance in March Madness.
Daniels, a guard, showed signs last year of being an offensive threat, but during the off-season he was outplayed, by the new members of the Northridge squad.
In an exhibition game Saturday against The Masters College Daniels was more aggressive on the offensive side, scoring 16 points.
“Coaches have been saying I haven’t been playing hard so I wanted to come out and show these guys that I can come out and play hard even though it was just exhibition just let everybody know I’m still the same Kenny I just to be,” Daniels said.
Forward Galick is now the team’s star and is expected to carry the Matadors on offense and defense. Galick spent the offseason working on his jump shot and post up game. In the two-preseason games he scored 30 points, showing that his hard work is paying off.
He will be anchoring the defense now that Townsend is gone. He needs to increase his rebounding and blocked shots. Recently Galick‘s job got harder when 7-footer Xavier Crawford was suspended indefinitely for not adhering team rules and policies.
Point guard Hill has the duty of setting up the offense and getting everyone involved. Last season Hill stepped up when filling in for Jenkins and now expectations for him are high this season. In exhibition play Hill was held scoreless and didn’t try attacking the basket. That’s not unusual for a point guard to do in preseason because they want to get the new players familiar with the system and that what Hill was trying to do.
“This preseason for us was to become a team,” Hill said. “A lot of guys from last year are gone so we need people to fill in those shoes.”
Braswell had a successful recruiting season. His new weapons have shown an immediate impact on the team. Hill feels that these first year Matadors might be on the verge of breaking out.
“We have a lot of talent that came in,” Hill said. “A lot of guys really (look) good on this team that no one knows about but I’m pretty sure at the end of the year they’ll know about them.”
Transfer players Lenny Daniel, Rashaun McLemore and Kevin Menner were all impressive in their debut last week in exhibition play. They are all capable of cracking coach Braswell starting lineup.
6-foot-8 forward Daniel was CSUN’s best player in preseason play and is now looking like the perfect candidate to replace Townsend. Galick believes that he can fill the void of Townsend and it’s a relief for him to have another big man helping him inside.
“He brings a lot of athleticism and he brings the fire that he really wants to attack the rim and it takes a burden off a lot us because he is so athletic and he steps in to fill that role very nicely,” Galick said.
The Matadors have a tough schedule before conference play, they have to go to No. 7 Purdue to open the season and next month they travel to Washington to face the No. 14 Huskies. After the Friday game CSUN travels to Tempe, Ariz to compete in the always-tough NIT.
“We’ve a group of veteran guys, returning guys in the locker room, who know if you can go out and play and limit your mistakes that you can have a chance against (teams),” Braswell said.
The Matadors start conference play in January and have to get past tough schools like Long Beach State and UC Santa Barbara, in order to win a third consecutive Big West title.
“I don’t feel like we have pressure on us,” Hill said. I feel like a lot of people are sleeping on us, they don’t feel that we going to be that good but we working hard right now to try to prove them wrong.”