By Michelle Gardner
A good start was probably the worst thing that could have happened to the Cal State San Bernardino mens basketball team.
The Coyotes were an impressive 8-0 despite a difficult schedule and they even boasted an exhibition win over Division I Youngstown State. So hopes for a return trip to the national semifinal were not unrealistic.
The Coyotes had their moments but didnt put 40 minutes together in any game after that. They settled for a still-stellar 22-8 record and a share of the CCAA title for the seventh time in nine years, both noteworthy accomplishments. But with three Elite appearances since 1999, the bar has been raised higher at Cal State.
This years run ended with a 67-63 loss to Brigham Young-Hawaii in the West Region quarterfinal at Anchorage.
I dont think we were as good as we thought we were, said Coyotes coach Jeff Oliver, who just wrapped up his sixth season heading the program. We relied a little too much on our defense and that carried us because we never got it totally together at the other end of the floor.
The Coyotes came up empty in the close games. They were just 1-3 in overtime and seven of their eight losses were by a total of 24 points. They lost three times when allowing 65 points or less.
Most of those games we win and it isnt even close if we have just an average offensive game, Oliver said.
The Coyotes, who won 20 games for the ninth time in 10 years, came in to the season having lost seven players including their top four scorers.
This years team seemed more balanced, with 12 players getting regular playing time, but it never got the same production it got from its top two departed players – Ivan Johnson and Prentice Harris.
I thought we had balance but it turned out to be a balance of mediocrity, Oliver added. We needed more production from our top guys and more production from our middle guys.
The good news for Oliver is that the Coyotes will start next season with more players who have experience in the system than was the case this year. Seven players are leaving, four of them starters. Among those are all-conference selections Michael Earl, Lance Ortiz and Marlon Pierce.
The core of six who will be counted on heavily next year includes guard Steve Gaston, center Devon Davis, forward Ryan Kinney and guard-forwards Renardo Bass, Phil Jones and Reggie Brown. Gaston, Brown and Kinney are threats form long distance but will need to be more consistent. Jones and Bass were both top-notch defenders but will be asked to contribute more on offense.
Oliver also is high on the three players who redshirted this year. Guards Tim Denson (Colorado State) and Omar Krayem (Eastern Washington) are both Division I transfers. Jordan Richard, a 6-foot-9 center out of Los Osos, has potential to fill the void left by the departure of Earl.
Oliver said he hopes to bring at least five players into the program, at least one at every position. As has been the case Oliver will look for experienced players out of the junior college ranks.
It never hurts to have some competition so I am hoping we get at least five, maybe as many as seven guys, he said.
Oliver said his team is not going back to the Disney West Coast Classic in Anaheim since the event is trying to rotate representation out of the CCAA. Humboldt State will be the likely conference participant.
The Coyotes will open the season with games at Seattle Pacific against Great Northwest Athletic Conference contenders Western Washington and Seattle Pacific.
They will go back to Las Vegas but not the same event they had played in the last two years against GNAC schools. Instead they will face Grand Canyon, which once was in the CCAA and now plays out of the Pacific West Conference, and San Francisco School of the Arts, which has been accepted into the Pac West for next season.
Oliver said he will also have exhibition games against two Division I schools which should be confirmed in the next month.