CSUN was set up to fail last season.
Well, not exactly, but according to head coach Bobby Braswell, last year’s team was expecting to be handed another Big West Conference championship after winning two consecutive titles.
“Coming off back-to-back championships and a run to the NCAA Tournament, sometimes if you’re not careful guys will come back with a sense that when seniors leave, it’s the remaining guys’ time to win,” Braswell said, for one of his reasons why CSUN finished a disappointing eighth place in the Big West. “Then they don’t play as well together and are more individual minded than team minded.”
The selfish play that Braswell speaks of showed throughout the 2009-10 season.
The Matadors, who finished 11-21 overall and 6-10 in the conference play a year ago, had a lack of chemistry on the court as they committed 17.5 turnovers per game and ranked last in the conference with 11.3 assists per game.
However, with the upcoming season opening Friday night at UCLA, the Matadors have rebuilt with the addition of 10 new players (eight freshmen, one junior college transfer, and one redshirt sophomore).
This year’s team is the youngest in Braswell’s 15 seasons at CSUN. He knows that it will require plenty of patience from him to coach the freshman players.
“The biggest thing for this group is getting these young guys (freshmen) to understand how hard you have to play,” Braswell said. “Get them to compete hard, day in and day out. Not allow them to get out of focus and when you’re young like that, it’s hard to stay focused.”
One freshman who could give Braswell less of a headache is Josh Greene from Community Charter High School. The Matadors have been pleased with Greene’s work ethic and strong showings during practice.
“Josh Greene is really competitive and he is the one player that has played really well for us, and we’re excited about what he has shown us,” Braswell said.
The seven returning Matadors have been guiding the new players during the offseason workouts.
“All the guys are welcoming me and the other freshmen,” guard Aqeel Quinn said. “They’re just like brothers.”
Braswell has said numerous times that a major reason why CSUN flopped last season was not having leadership from veteran players. Even with six seniors in the rotation, the Matadors didn’t have a leader to follow during crunch time, losing six games by three points or less.
Senior Rashaun McLemore was able to provide leadership at times, but had to miss 15 games due to a lingering back injury.
“I’m doing real good, no pain in my back,” said McLemore, who is expected to be one of CSUN’s go-to players. “I have to lead the new guys. We get together at the dorms and just hang out. Getting to know each other will shift onto the court.”
This season, redshirt junior Vinnie McGhee and senior Dathan Lyles understand how important it is for point guards to provide leadership on and off the court.
“We don’t want our season to go like it went last year, so Dathan (Lyles) and I took the new guards under our wing and told them we need to be tenacious guards and focus on defense,” said McGhee, who averaged 7.5 points and 1.8 assists last season.
The Matadors will need plenty of leadership from the start of the season when they face UCLA and Cal on the road. Also, CSUN will face No. 23 Virginia Tech on Thanksgiving Day at the 76 Classic.
CSUN is looking at the bright side of playing a tough non-conference schedule, as it will prepare them for Big West play.
Northridge was picked to finish eighth in the Big West preseason poll, with defending champion UC Santa Barbara being the favorite.
“I didn’t look at the poll and I don’t know who is number one and don’t care for none of that,” McLemore said. “We don’t pay attention to that stuff, and just play basketball.”