NOVEMBER 21, 2001
Contact: Kevin Gilmore - 661/664-6071 / kgilmore@csub.edu


'Runner Basketball preview

After a brief—albeit agonizing—two–year hiatus from NCAA Tournament play, the Cal State Bakersfield men’s basketball team returned to the promised land in style, advancing to the regional semifinals. Although their season–ending overtime loss to eventual regional champion Western Washington left a bitter taste in the mouths of Roadrunner fans, four returning starters (including one All–American) and a stellar recruiting class should give them a sense of optimism heading into the 2001–2002 campaign.


History will look back kindly on the 2001 Roadrunners, though early in the season, that didn’t appear to be the case. A grueling early–season schedule saw the ’Runners struggle. As has become tradition at CSUB, however, a late–season streak put the ’Runners in their rightful position as legitimate regional contenders once again.

The key to the 2001 season was not the streak so much as what happened after. The ’Runners avoided the pitfall of losing to lower–ranked teams down the stretch (losses which cost them regional bids the previous two seasons), winning nine of the final 10 games to close the regular season in style, securing the 17th NCAA bid in the 30–year history of Road-runner Basketball.

Entering the regional as the No. 4 seed, CSUB earned its first postseason win since the 1997 NCAA Championship game by dispatching Humboldt State 99–88. The ’Runners then squared off against No. 1 seed and host Western Washington. Though CSUB led for much of the game, Western came back in the second half and held off the ’Runners in overtime.

“The key to last season was the senior leadership we received down the stretch,” says fifth–year Head Coach Henry Clark (80–31, .721). “The guys finally got past being recruited by Cal State Bakersfield, to playing for Cal State Bakersfield, to understanding that they are Cal State Bakersfield. At that point the team really started to gel off the court, and that is when the season turned around.”


Talk about your 180–degree turns. Last season, CSUB had most new faces on its roster in the 30–year history of the program. In 2001–2002, Coach Clark will open with the most veteran roster in his five years as head coach. Last season’s team had a combined 29 games of collegiate experience. This season’s team enters the year with a collective 212 games of experience, including 122 starts. That experience should be key in helping the ’Runners avoid the stumbling block of the last three seasons: the dreaded slow start.

Over the past three seasons, CSUB has opened an aggregate 5–12. That the team went 49–16 following those slow starts (including 19–4 last season) hasn’t always been enough in the new 22–game conference season.

“Once again, senior leadership should be crucial to our success,” says Clark. “Going into recruiting, we knew we had experience at every position. That experience should help us start well ahead of where we began last season, when we had to teach 11 new players how to play Roadrunner Basketball.”

Not only does CSUB have substantial returning experience, but as Clark points out, it has experience at all five positions. The senior member of that cast is senior post player Dock Ellis III (Arlington, Texas/CSUB ’00). Ellis should go by the name “Rock” instead of Dock, because he has been a pillar in the post as a three–year letterwinner. Through a combination of strength and technical ability, Ellis has developed into one of the nation’s top post defenders. He blocks more than his share of shots (finishing third in the CCAA) as well as finishing third in CCAA rebounding as a junior.

CSUB’s other returning interior player also is its only returning All–American: senior Lemar Gayle (Long Beach, Calif./Cerritos CC). Gayle missed the first seven games of the season after transferring midyear from Division I Utah State. All he did over the balance of the season was lead the CCAA in scoring (17.3 ppg) and rebounding (8.3 rpg). He reached double figures in scoring in 20 of 22 games, reaching 20 points in five of his last six games. He went for a CCAA season–high 19 rebounds at Grand Canyon and scored his personal season best of 28 points in the regional semifinals at Western Washington.

Although he played the “4,” or power forward position most of last season, look for Gayle to see more action at the “3,” or small forward position this season.

The ’Runners return two players at small forward, each of whom brings a unique set of abilities to the position. The incumbent starter is senior Todd Jones (Upland, Calif./Fullerton JC). Jones is the type of player who can impact a game without scoring a point. He was the team’s best defender and emotional spark plug. That he scored in double figures 11 times and hit 38 percent of his three point attempts only multiplies his value.

CSUB’s other returning “3” is senior slasher Brian Collins (Grand Terrace, Calif./Riverside CC). Collins is a gifted offensive player who, when playing under control, can change the tempo of the game off the bench. His playing time will be dictated in large measure by how well he worked on his defensive skills during the off-season.

At the point, senior Damarius Akins (Baton Rouge, La./Porterville College) provides offensive continuity and solid one–on–one defensive skills. Akins is not far behind Jones among CSUB’s perimeter defenders. Offensively, he led CSUB both in assists (83) and assist-to-turnover ration (1.4 to 1) while his unselfish attitude was the only thing keeping his scoring average at 5.0 ppg.

CSUB’s other returning guard is senior Ramel Curry (Brooklyn, NY/Fresno CC). Curry is proficient at both guard positions and ranks among the team’s more potent offensive weapons. An able penetrater, Curry also led the team in three–point shooting (41 pct.) and freethrow shooting (75 pct.) as a junior. He played in all 28 games for which he was on the roster last season and should challenge for a starting spot in 2002.

The 2002 CSUB roster will feature six newcomers, each of whom brings a unique set of talents to the floor. CSUB’s lone newcomer on the frontline will be Skyline College transfer Dennis Williams (6–9, 245, San Francisco, Calif.). Williams was a standout at both the high school (San Francisco’s Balboa HS) and junior college levels. As a sophomore at Skyline College, he earned first–team All–Coast Conference honors, leading Skyline to a 29–4 record and a conference championship.

The ’Runners will boast a deep and lethal backcourt with the addition of McCook (Neb.) College transfer Lawrence Charles (6–1, 170, New Orleans, La.), Porterville College swingman Brad Fields (6–6, 190, Johnson City, Tenn.), freshmen Brandon Kinney (Chino, Calif.) and Marlon Mitchell (6–1, 180, Ontario, Calif.) from Ontario High School and Shasta College sharpshooter Billy Speer (6–5, 190, Redding, Calif.).

Charles signed late in the recruiting season, but it shouldn’t take him long to prove his worth in Bakersfield. Equally adept penetrating or shooting from the perimeter, Charles established his winning credentials in high school when he led his St. Augustine team of New Orleans to a national championship.

Fields may be the most versatile player on the CSUB roster. Fields, who originally signed at Division I Montana, led Porterville to the 2000 California State title by averaging 9.8 ppg, 3.9 rpg and a team best 3.5 apg. Don’t be surprised to see him play every position except center at some point during the season.

Kinney was a two–year letterwinner at Ontario High School, where he averaged 15.6 points and 4.5 rebounds per game for the Jaguars. He was OHS’s Defensive MVP and earned the team’s Hustle Award, talents which could help him contribute immediately this season.

Mitchell lettered three times at Ontario High, earning Mt. Baldy League and Team MVP honors as a senior in 2001. Mitchell, who averaged 24 points and three steals per game, also was a first team All–CIF (3A) selection, all–area as selected by the Inland Valley Daily Bulletin and MVP of the Inland Valley All–Star Basketball Game.

Speer, a two–time first team All–Golden Valley Conference selection, gives the ’Runners their first pure shooter since All–American Marcus Moss in 1998. Speer scored 23.1 ppg while making 80 three–pointers. He led the state in freethrow shooting (.900, 90-of-100) as well.

“Knowing the experience we had coming back, our goal in recruiting was to add depth at every position, and we believe we were successful in reaching that goal” says Clark. “Each new player brings something different to his position than the players we have returning. “That versatility will allow us to play a variety of combinations and give our opponents many different looks.”


An important complement to an exciting CSUB team in 2001–2002 will be an equally exciting schedule. Not only will the ’Runners entertain teams from across the country this season, but they will head on the road for some key early season nonconference games. Highlighting the slate are road games at NCAA Division I power UC Irvine and Western Oregon. The 21st annual State Farm Roadrunner Classic will feature three teams from across the country. As always, the grueling 22–game CCAA schedule will separate the wheat from the chaff as CSUB guns for its record 12th conference title.

“The early season schedule is so important for this season’s team,” says Clark. “We hope to receive an emotional lift by competing well in a hostile environment at the Western Oregon Tournament. We’ll need that kind of test to prepare for the CCAA portion of our schedule.

“In addition to playing against (former CSUB coach) Pat Douglass, the game at UC Irvine will mean a lot our team because so many of our players are from the Southern California area. Although they’ve competed against Division I players all summer at the Say No Classic, this will be their first chance to compete against a quality Division I team.”

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