Aug. 4, 2005
Fullerton, CA - Short of a trip to the Final Four, there's no way for a Cal State Fullerton men's basketball team to surpass the success of the 1977-78 squad. In only their fourth year of Div. I play, those Titans turned a third-place regular-season finish into a Cinderella trip to the "Big Dance" by winning the Pacific Coast Athletic Association post-season tournament and then defeating nationally ranked New Mexico and San Francisco in the NCAA Tournament. In the Western Regional Finals they came up a basket short vs. Arkansas and no other Titan squad has approached that level of excitement.
Until the undersized and overachieving 2004-05 edition of Titan basketball.
Displaying resiliency, flexibility and tenacity to go with equal parts heart and character, the most recent Titan squad overcame more than a decade of mediocrity to rekindle interest in the program by compiling a 21-11 record. The Titans led the Big West Conference in scoring by playing fast and free and entertaining basketball. The winning followed despite a series of potentially devastating obstacles.
The projected starting center (Lloyd Walls) never played a minute due to concussions. The team's leading rebounder (Hardy Asprilla) went down with a season-ending knee injury in the 12th game of the season. A reserve guard (Drew Awad) went home to battle a reoccurrence of cancer. And late in the season, during a remarkable three-game run into the post-season National Invitation Tournament, the backup point guard (John Clemmons) was lost to a broken foot and the conference's leading scorer and rebounder (Ralphy Holmes) was lost to another knee injury. All season the Titans were minus one coaching position and they played only three non-conference home games vs. six on the road.
In some ways, the 2005 NIT accomplishments were more difficult than the 1978 NCAA run. The opponents were not nationally ranked as they were in 1978, but the games were played on hostile, not neutral, floors. Oregon State had lost only one of 13 home games (to an Elite Eight Arizona team) with victories over NCAA Tournament teams Washington, Stanford and UCLA. San Francisco beat five conference champions during the regular season including Pacific in Stockton and Gonzaga and it had not lost a non-conference home game. But the Titans won in both Corvallis and San Francisco around improvised itineraries that would eventually see them chalk up 7,000 miles, 3 hotels, 7 bus drivers and 8 airports in a 9-day span. The loss of Holmes and the accumulated effects of the travel finally caught up with them at Georgetown, which didn't need much help for its athletically gifted 18-12 squad that got to play in its campus gym before an ESPN national TV audience.
In compiling Cal State Fullerton's first winning season in 12 years, the 2004-05 Titans accomplished the following:
&\#149; won 21 games, a figure surpassed only by the 23-9 record in 1977-78
&\#149; won the school's first post-season games since 1978
&\#149; posted the best conference record (12-6) since the 1982-83 team went 12-4
&\#149; claimed the highest finish in the standings (tie for third) since the 1984-85 team was third at 11-7
&\#149; posted the first winning conference road record (5-4) at the Div. I level (dates to 1974-75)
&\#149; posted the first winning overall road record at 11-9 (9-6 on hostile, 2-3 on neutral sites) since the 1988-89 team went 8-6
&\#149; posted the best home-court record (10-2) since the 1982-83 team went 13-0
&\#149; won their first Big West Conference Tournament game since 1998 and only second since 1990
&\#149; posted only the third win over a Pac-10 opponent in 22 tries (21 of those 22 games played on the road)
&\#149; led the conference in scoring at 75.2 ppg and shattered school records with 253 3-point field goals and 716 3-point attempts
&\#149; drew the two largest crowds in Titan Gym in 12 years with 2,076 vs. Idaho on Feb. 17 and then 3,576 vs. Pacific on Mar. 3
&\#149; compiled the best record (21-11) among Southern California Div. I schoolsTMTM
Individually, Ralphy Holmes led the way. The 6-foot-4 senior, who was expelled from school for the 2003-04 year for an off-campus incident, had to establish campus residency in the first semester and missed the first five games. He finished up leading the conference in scoring at 16.9 ppg and rebounding at 8.8 rpg. He had 11 double-doubles in points and rebounds and even managed the school's first triple-double with 14 points, 13 rebounds and 10 assists in his final game in Titan Gym, a win over Cal State Northridge. He earned second-team all-conference honors to go with his first-team berth of 2002-03. He suffered a partial tear of the medial collateral ligament in his left knee at USF and did not make the trip to Georgetown for what became the season finale.TMTM
Splitting the vote and also making the all-conference second team was another 6-foot-4 senior forward in Yaphett King. He moved from small forward to power forward when Asprilla was injured and immediately created matchup problems for opponents with his ability to score from outside and inside while still hold his own on the backboards with bigger foes. He averaged 13.8 ppg, seventh-best in the conference, and grabbed 6.2 rpg. He ranked No. 9 in 3-point field goal percentage at .375 and No. 10 in overall field goal percentage a .442.
The unrelated Browns -- junior center Jamaal and sophomore point guard Bobby -- both received honorable mention all-conference. Jamaal was the inside force for the Titans and led the team with three game-winning shots. He was third in the conference to Holmes and Utah State's Spencer Nelson in rebounding at 7.6 rpg and seventh in field-goal percentage at .496. Bobby proved the ironman, averaging about 36 minutes per game. He was third in the conference in scoring (16.8 ppg), third in assists (4.66 apg), third in free-throw percentage (.827) and second in 3-point field goals made (2.66 pg). In only two seasons, he has CSF's second (85) and fifth-best (70) single-season totals of 3-pointers made and his career total of 155 is only 36 shy of the school record.
Junior guard Jermaine Harper just missed being the fifth starter in double-figure scoring at 9.7 ppg. He was a classic streak shooter with four games of 20 or more points and nine of four points or less. He made 7-of-11 3-pointers vs. Utah State in the Big West Tournament quarterfinals and 6-of-11 in the season opener vs. Samford. Seventy percent of his shots came from behind the 3-point arc as he made 70 (of 191) to match Bobby Brown for the fifth-best single-season total by a Titan.
Before he was injured in a Jan. 13 home win over Long Beach State that gave the Titans an 8-4 record, senior forward Asprilla was battling for the conference lead in rebounding. He ultimately edged Holmes, 8.83 to 8.77 per game, but didn't play the rquired 75 percent of his team's games. He also typically took on the opponent's top scoring threat on the front line.
The Titans' bench was left thin by the attrition. Reserves scored only 67 points over the final 15 games and didn't score in three of the final four. But Clemmons provided solid relief for Bobby Brown as well as an aggressive defensive presence on the perimeter. Justin Burns had his moments, leading the team in blocked shots and getting 6 points and 10 rebounds in 11 minutes of the first half at UC Irvine. Walk-on Vershan Cottrell was fearless and contributed 4 key points in the home win over Utah State and he finished the season with half of a triple-double at Georgetown with 5 points, 5 rebounds and 5 assists off the bench. Derek Quinet started the first five games of the season with Jamaal Brown joining Holmes on the not-yet-eligible list and walk-on Danny Lambert got in for 22 minutes of action.
Second-year Coach Bob Burton would probably have been Big West Conference coach of the year had not Pacific's Bob Thomasson gone undefeated in the conference season and grabbed a national Top 20 ranking. Tim Kelly, who was going to be the volunteer director of basketball operations, instead served as the third assistant behind Andy Newman and Jason Levy when the hiring of a full-time coach bogged down. Miss Allyson Alhadeff was easily the most talked about administrative assistant in the conference. For their efforts, Coach Burton had his contract extended through the 2009-10 season and he and his staff each received pay raises.
Other notable accomplishments in 2004-05: &\#149; The Titans made only the third and fourth trips to the East Coast to represent Cal State Fullerton in men's basketball, opening the season at the Mohegan Sun Classic in Connecticut and closing it in the NIT in Washington, DC
&\#149; The Titans went 7-4 in games decided by the last shot
&\#149; Fullerton won three consecutive road games on Feb. 3 at UC Riverside, Feb. 7 at UC Davis and Feb. 10 at UC Irvine. Fullerton hadn't won TWO consecutive road games since 1996-97 and you had to go back to 1974-75 to find three other truly "road" wins in a row (with no home games interrupting the string), and those were not against Div. I foes
&\#149; Fullerton swept the season series from UC Santa Barbara for the first time since 1993-94 and made it 3-0 in the BWC Tourney
&\#149; Fullerton swept the season series from Cal Poly SLO for the first time since 1996-97, its first year in the Big West Conference
&\#149; Fullerton swept the season series from CSU Northridge for the first time since the Matadors joined the conference for 2001-02
&\#149; Fullerton swept the season series from UC Riverside for the first time since the Highlanders joined the conference for 2001-02
&\#149; Fullerton beat Utah State on Feb. 19 for only the third time in 24 meetings
&\#149; Fullerton appeared on national TV (ESPN vs. Georgetown) for the first time since a pair of overtime losses in 1990 -- Jan. 29 at UCSB an Feb. 19 vs. Long Beach State
&\#149; Earlier in the season, Fullerton basketball gained national TV exposure on the ABC shows "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition" and "How Did They Do That?" that aired on Jan. 16 and 17, respectively. Former Titan guard Rodney Anderson, who was the victim of a street shooting on Mar. 2, 2000, late in his freshman season, and his family received two new homes on the site of their crumbling 1911-built residence in South Central Los Angeles. A Dec. 8, 2004, taping of the retirement of his jersey No. 4 in Titan Gym was included in the show.
&\#149; The conference scoring championship came down to the NIT. By making his final shot at USF, a 3-pointer, Holmes stayed ahead of Idaho's Dandrick Jones by the margin of 16.92 to 16.83 points per game. Had Bobby Brown scored 4 more points vs. Georgetown, he would have passed both Holmes and Jones but he ended up third at 16.813 ppg. Ironically, Holmes lost the 2002-03 scoring title by the margin of one more basket by Cal Poly's Varnie DennisTMTM