After a heartbreaking loss to 16th-ranked Pacific in last year’s Big West Tournament semifinals in Anaheim, the CSUN men’s basketball team is back with an array of fresh faces that are full of potential.
Coming off their first winning season in four years, and after losing their three top scorers, the Matadors will need to have a total team effort on both offense and defense to be competitive in the Big West Conference.
Head coach Bobby Braswell returns for his tenth season with a 143-123 overall record. Braswell said this year’s team will be more athletic and quicker than previous teams. He believes the team’s characteristics will improve CSUN’s ability to play more explosive offensive.
The Matadors No. 1 scorer is still unknown, but there is no shortage of candidates.
Junior Mike Efevberha is the most likely candidate to lead CSUN in points this season. Efevberha transferred from Orange Coast College, and last played at UC Irvine.
Efevberha scored 28 points in a 90-75 preseason victory over the Cal State Los Angeles Golden Eagles on Nov. 3. He then scored 30 points in the Matadors 96-73 final preseason victory over the Cal State Dominguez Hills Toros on Nov. 11.
“I have been looking forward to start the season for the past year and a half,” Efevberha said. “Everybody is going to be prepared and ready to play.”
Junior Keith Everage is another transfer player that could make his presence felt. Everage transferred from San Jose State, where he averaged seven points and five rebounds per game in the 2003-04 season.
Sophomore Jonathan Heard and junior Thomas “Big Valley” Shewmake will return from last year’s squad.
Heard was added to the Big West’s All-Freshman team last season, averaging eight points and three rebounds per game, while shooting almost 50 percent from the field. Heard was also ninth in the Big West in free-throw percentage.
Shewmake led the Matadors in rebounding in each of the last two seasons, while averaging almost five per game last season. Shewmake also averaged five points and shot .500 from the field.
According to Braswell, this year’s team will give him the opportunity to go 11 players deep and incorporate many of his physically demanding defensive plays.
The point guard position could run by committee. Bakari Altheimer is the team’s only senior. Altheimer started 10 games last season and averaged almost five points and two assists per game, but missed the final 14 games of last season when he fractured his right hand.
The other returning point guard is sophomore Robert Locke, who made eight starts last season, averaging almost two points in his 11 minutes per game.
CSUN also has two freshmen prospects in Jason Hill and Lawrence Tyson, who could play key roles in the guard position.
The perimeter players are going to be something to watch for the Matadors this season. Heard is one of three returning starters, and is the leading scorer returning from last season.
Efevberha, who averaged 29 points per game in the preseason, has displayed a strong on-court presence and could fit well in a leadership role. Junior Terrell Jones averaged 2.4 points per game in eight minutes last season and could see a lot more playing time this season.
In the power forward position junior Austin Waggener has started the preseason strong, recording a double double in his first outing of the year.
Junior Jayme Miller, who transferred from Los Angeles Valley College where he averaged 10 points and six rebounds per game, is a strong 6-foot-7 powerhouse that could not only wind up as a starter, but become a fan favorite with his high flying capabilities.
The big man position will be led by Shewmake, if he can stay healthy. Shewmake did not play in the preseason due to a knee injury. However, he feels confident that he will play in CSUN’s opener against USC.
“If my conditioning was there, I would feel 100 percent ,” Shewmake said. “But I will play on Sunday.”
Freshman Austen Powers, who had 10 points in the preseason finale against the Toros, could play power forward or center this season.
The Matadors open the season on the road against the Trojans Nov. 20 at 2 p.m. at the Los Angeles Sports Arena.
Last year USC had an overall record of 12-17 overall and 5-13 in the Pac-10. The Trojans are lead by sophomore Gabe Pruitt, who averaged 12 points per game and Junior Lodrick Stewert, who averaged 12 points per game last season.
This will be the fifth meeting between the Matadors and the Trojans, with USC winning the previous four at the Sports Arena. The last time both teams met the Matadors lost 75-69.
“We are a much deeper team this year then we were last year,” Braswell said. “Offensively we really like to push the ball up the floor and defensively we really like to pressure people.”
Justin Satzman can be reached at email@example.com.