September 14, 2007

Life After Bobby Brown on the Horizon

Sept. 14, 2007

Fullerton, Calif. - There was life after Leon Wood for Titan basketball in 1984-85 and it looks like there will be life after Bobby Brown at Cal State Fullerton in 2007-08.

Junior Kevin Henderson slid over from an off guard position to fill Wood's point guard role after the U. S. Olympian, The Sporting News first-team All-American and school career scoring leader headed off to the Philadelphia 76ers and the NBA. A future NBA player himself, Henderson had a lot of help with three-year starters Tony Neal and Gary Davis on hand to shoulder much of the scoring burden. That team went 17-13 (11-7, 3rd place in league) and advanced to the championship game of the Pacific Coast Athletic Association post-season tournament, where it lost to UNLV.

This season juniors Marcus Crenshaw and Junior Russell and senior Ray Reed will be asked in some combination to fill the void left at the point by the graduation of Brown, who broke Wood's career scoring record in a dominating 4-year performance before heading to the Charlotte Bobcats' Summer League team to try to earn an NBA spot as well. The trio of guards will get a lot of help, primarily from returning first-team All-Big West Conference forward Scott Cutley, senior honorable mention All-Big West guard Frank Robinson and Washington State transfer guard Josh Akognon.

Fifth-year Head Coach Bob Burton has a very deep and mature lineup with seven seniors and seven juniors on the roster, which also must find a replacement for departed senior center Justin Burns (10.5 ppg, 6.7 rpg).

"Playing without Bobby Brown will be a real adjustment. I've never coached a game at Cal State Fullerton that he didn't play in or usually start," said Burton. "This team will be totally different.

"We will have more depth than we've ever had and that should help us toward our goal to become a better defensive team. That's a huge priority for us -- it's the real key to how well we will do -- how we play defense. We will have competition for playing time -- at practice and in the games. In the past, we have come out and pressured pretty well at the start of games but then we hit a wall.

"We have filled two major defensive needs at point and in the paint. Junior Russell (point guard) is a tremendous defender and Eddie Lima gives us size (6-foot-9, 280 pounds) and a defensive presence in the middle.

"We've always been good on offense and we might be better. We have so many different scorers and ways to score. In the past we relied on Bobby Brown or Jamaal Brown. But now we should have tremendous balance."

Cutley led the Big West last season in rebounding at 9.5 per game and was the No. 5 scorer at 15.6 points per game. Robinson (2005-06) and Crenshaw (2006-07) each has been selected the "sixth man of the year" by the Big West coaches and each has a Titan career scoring average in double figures -- Robinson at 11.7 ppg and Crenshaw at 11.4. Reed, a Georgetown transfer, averaged 7.6 points and 3.1 assists last year while Russell was a two-year star at West Valley College in Saratoga. Akognon was the leading scorer at 10.3 ppg for the methodical Cougars in 2005-06.

"I think we have the best `4' man in the conference in Scott Cutley," said Burton. "Depending on how well the team does, he has a chance to be the most valuable player in the Big West.

"At the wing spots we have Robinson back and Akognon is really good and Marcio Lassiter (6-2, San Francisco CC) can really shoot the ball. We know what Crenshaw can do from there. And Gerard Anderson (6-6, Saddleback College) can play the `3' or the `4'."

The question marks lie inside. Senior forwards Andrew Green (3.6 ppg, 2.8 rpg), Kenneth Alexander (3.0 ppg, 2.7 rpg) and Marcus Morgan (1.7 ppg, 2.6 rpg) all made the transition from community college to Div. I last year with modest success.

"We expect great senior years from each of that trio," said Burton. "All of them are more prepared than they were last year. It will be a real dogfight to see who plays."

Being asked to make a more immediate impact will be Lima, from Arizona Western College. And there's a wild card in 7-foot-2 Adam Thomas, a transfer from Penn Valley CC in Kansas City, MO, who has only played the game for a few years.

"I think the Big West is really good," said Burton. "UC Santa Barbara is outstanding and probably has the best team in the league. Cal Poly is very good and Pacific should be good again after the season they had last year. And UC Irvine is very optimistic. The league will be the best since I've been here."