Eight Matador freshmen will be thrown into the fire from the get-go as they start off their careers against a team with 11 national championships.
Along with the diaper dandies, CSUN will have seven returnees when they head into historic Pauley Pavilion Friday night to face UCLA in the season opener for both teams.
“I’m excited. I’m used to watching UCLA on TV and now I get the opportunity to play at Pauley Pavilion, so much history in there,” said freshman guard/forward Allen Jiles IV. “It’s a dream come true. I’ve been waiting for this. I admire John Wooden a lot, he inspired a lot of people. That’s one of the reasons why I want to play (at Pauley Pavilion).”
Bobby Braswell, who will be entering his 15th season at CSUN, isn’t sure how the freshmen will react being on a big stage, but said if the Matadors are able to keep it close, they have a solid chance at stealing the victory.
“I don’t know what to expect from them young guys to be honest, but I think we have some tough young guys,” Braswell said. “They’re young, but we have some competitive guys and that’s going to be a tough place to play. UCLA is a lot older than we are and have guys that play at a high level. We have to match that level.”
Senior Rashaun McLemore can relate to the Matador freshmen because he played perennial powerhouse Kansas in his freshman year at Ball State. McLemore will be giving the first-year players words of advice.
“Similar to when I was a freshman, they will be nervous, but I had seniors getting me ready so I will do the same for them,” said McLemore, who also had the experience of opening last season on the road against a ranked Purdue team.
The Matador guards have a huge challenge of slowing down 6-foot-4 Malcolm Lee, who averaged 12.1 points per game for the Bruins last season. Vinnie McGhee said that over the offseason he and the other CSUN guards focused on improving its defense for when they face top-scoring guards such as Lee.
Also, the Bruins have two of the best forwards in the Pac-10 in Reeves Nelson and Tyler Honeycutt. Nelson in particular is expected to have a big season after averaging 11.1 points per game in his freshman year.
Daniel said he will be up for the challenge of guarding the physical 6-foot-8 forward and will use his athleticism against him.
“He’s a big strong guy, but he better be ready to move his feet,” said Daniel, who played against Nelson in high school. “I’m going to take it right at him, because I’m pretty sure he’s going to take at me.”
Last season was Daniel’s first time competing in the Division-I level, and he quickly discovered the strength of the other players, compared to his. He decided to gain 15 pounds of muscle this past summer so he can be better prepared to face strong players like Nelson.
“I’m not going to back down from anybody, no matter how big they are,” said Daniel, who was named a Big West Honorable Mention last year. “I feel like I’m stronger than last year. I’m ready.”
The odds are against the Matadors, but they will try to do what fellow Big West team Cal State Fullerton did last season when they beat UCLA in double overtime in the season opener.