There is an old clich? that says “it’s a brand new year.” That saying, however, is true for the 2006-07 California State University, Northridge men’s basketball team. Seven months after the Matadors’ season ended 73-63 to CSU Fullerton at the Big West Tournament in Anaheim, CSUN looks to begin the new season today with many new faces.
Gone from last season are assistant coaches Joel Sobotka, Carl Holmes, Danny Sprinkle, point guard Bakari Altheimer, who graduated, Jeremy Braswell and leading scorer Mike Efevberha. Arriving this season are sophomore Sanford “Tre” Peters, junior Jordan Noblitt, junior Rai Colston, freshman Evan Scott and junior Mike McCrary. The coaching staff also has three new faces: assistant coaches Michael Johnson, Louis Wilson and J.C. Carter.
“The good thing is we’ve got a bunch of veteran guys,” head coach Bobby Braswell said. “We got really 11 guys who played last year and nine of them played quite a bit and started at one point during the season.”
The biggest difference from last season to this season is the departure of Efevberha, who left to the professional level. He led the team in scoring with 17 points per game, including scoring more than 20 points nine times as well as a season-high 39 points in a 5-point loss to CSU Fullerton on Jan. 6.
“He decided that he wanted to try and play at the next level and put his name into the draft,” Braswell said. “I am not going to say whether I agree with it or disagree with it ? he probably was not going to be back with us either way, regardless.”
It was reported that Efevberha and the rest of the team had disagreements in the latter end of last season. He believed some members of the team did not have the same commitment to winning as he did, which in turn led him to take more stuff on his shoulders and a lack of team chemistry.
With Efevberha gone, the Matadors will look for more team play, especially on the offensive end. Junior Jonathan Heard was second last season in points per game, averaging 12, while junior Calvin Chitwood chipped in last season, averaging just under 12 points per game.
“One thing that we are going to have to depend on because we don’t have one superstar is playing together as a team,” Braswell said. “(Last season) we got into a really selfish mode, a lot of individualism and not a lot of team play.”
Team chemistry was also something that was stressed by Braswell, Chitwood and senior Thomas Shewmake, who has taken it upon himself to be the leader of this team.
When asked whether he would take the leadership role, Shewmake said yes because he has been playing on the team longer than anyone else. He has the confidence of Braswell in taking that leadership role.
“(Shewmake) has shown a lot since the early days of practice,” Braswell said. “He has shown a lot more commitment and dedication to being a leader and he is not just doing it by talking, but by how hard he is working.
Shewmake has also struggled to stay healthy in his tenure at CSUN, but said he believes he is now healthy.
“Health-wise, I feel great,” Shewmake said. “I was able to work out over the summer and do a lot of rehab over the spring trying to get my body stronger.”
Chitwood also said that he believes this year’s team will have much better team chemistry, team play and a lot less individualism, which will lead to more victories.
“(Team chemistry) is something that we are stressing,” Chitwood said. “It is something that Northridge has always done and we are trying to get back to the basics.”
Unlike last season, Chitwood is expected to play the entire season. He was not allowed to play during last season’s fall semester because he did not make grades. Chitwood, however, said that he is working hard in class and said he believes grades should not be an issue, this season.
At last week’s media day, the Matadors were projected to finish seventh in both of the Big West preseason polls. In the media poll, the Matadors picked up 46 points, and in the coaches poll, CSUN picked up 16 points. Despite the fact that no one in the Big West is giving the Matadors a chance, Braswell is excited to see the place his team is in.
“Love it, love it,” Braswell said. “We have always been the underdog and we have thrived on it. All I have said to the players is that’s what people think of you, that’s what coaches in the conference think of you and it is going to be up to us to prove them wrong.”
CSUN begins its season on Nov. 2 with a home preseason game against Cal State Los Angeles at 7 p.m. at the Matadome. The Matadors begin the regular season on Nov. 10 at the Portland State Basketball Travelers Classic. The first regular season home game is against Redlands on Nov. 15.