California State University at San Bernardino against the University of California at Los Angeles. That's a mouthful, huh? Worthy of an exhibition game to kick off the 2011-12 men's basketball season.
Yes, it's an exhibition, won't count in the standings. But don't tell that to the players from San Berdoo. Anyone who thinks otherwise, check out the CSUSB athletics site at http://csusbathletics.com/splash.aspx?id=splash_26. CS San Bernardino certainly is not taking this as just another exhibition. In fact their website photo caption reads "What If."
What San Bernardino wants to exhibit is their sports identity. They want to make a statement in this game, a splash before the sporting world. They know that a strong showing November 6th at the Citizens Business Bank Arena in Ontario against the highly-touted and perhaps a lot better than many yet understand UCLA Bruins will accomplish that goal for them and their University.
And the CSUSB Coyotes are no pushover.
They play in the California Collegiate Athletic Association which features 12 teams from around the state. This is the 10th season Jeff Oliver has led the Coyotes. He has taken seven of his nine teams to the NCAA Tournament and has won 20 or more games in seven of his ten seasons. The Coyotes' top two scorers from last season, Corey Caston and Aaron Hill, have graduated but Coach Oliver believes he has brought in enough talent to make up for the loss.
CSU SB will have four new players this season. They include two Division 1 transfers and two JC transfers. Coach Oliver wanted to replace experience and leadership with experience and leadership and that appears to be what he has achieved.
The Coyotes will play only one player taller than 6-7 and that is 6-10 junior Pablo Genero, a transfer from South Plains Junior College just outside Dallas,Texas. Originally from Spain, Genero brings them much needed size in the middle. He has very quick hands and moves his feet very well for a man his size.
After Genero who is after all new to the team, the Coyotes are a lot smaller. But if you can't fight size with size then you try to go after it with quickness. That's the idea, anyway, and CSUSB really doesn't have much choice in the matter.
Theron Laudermill, a 6-7 senior forward, returns from a very successful season last year that saw him named 2nd team All-CCAA. Laudermill averaged 9.6 points, 5.7 rebounds and led the team in blocked shots with 25. He will be expected to step it up another notch this year. He is a good shooter hitting on 49.1% of his shot attempts.
Kwame Alexander at 6-7, 240 pounds handles the center position for the Coyotes. His season last year saw him get the player of the week award for the CCAA for his 15 point 7 rebound average during the week of the CCAA Tournament. He may not be really tall but he moves well and with his wide body he is hard to move out of the lane. We'll see how he fares going up against the Bruins' Joshua Smith.
One of Coach Oliver's prized recruits is a transfer from Citrus College in Glendora, Calif. Hakeem Washington at 5-9, 150 pounds was brought in to run the offense. This junior gained plenty of experience while leading his Citrus team to an unbeaten Western State Conference season and a second place finish in the state tournament. He averaged 9 points, 3 assists and 1.5 steals last season.
Scooter Holmes, a 6-5, 200 pound forward is another transfer. Holmes played at Oxnard J C last year and was ranked in the top 100 players on that level. He averaged 13.6 points a game and is said to have a very good low post game. Coach Oliver said "his explosiveness down low is going to be a big key for us."
CSUSB finished last season at 17 wins and 10 losses. Coach Oliver is calling this game against UCLA as "a once in a lifetime moment." Well, perhaps not quite "once." The two teams met during the 2007-2008 season and it was a blow-out win for UCLA, 76-41. It is a memory Coach Oliver wants to erase because it was televised nationally by ESPN and his team just could not get it going against the Bruins.
CSUSB provides reasonable opposition for an exhibition to open the season as well as an opportunity in this season with a home for fans in the Inland Empire to get to see the Bruins in person. The Coyotes are a solid program and have a decade-long record of effectiveness at the level at which they compete.
That said, this clearly has all the makings of another blow-out victory for the Bruins unless they take the opponent lightly. At their best the Bruins should be able to play catch over the opponents' heads in guiding the ball into the basket on the offensive end and keeping it away from the hoop when on defense.
In this season with Pauley Pavilion undergoing a renovation, this is a unique opportunity for UCLA to get some direct Inland Empire recruiting exposure and provide fans in the area a chance to get to see the Bruins perform in person. Still, it should be a loud and biased crowd - it's a long drive for UCLA students. Exhibition though it is, this will be yet another road "game" in a season that will be composed of them. Hopefully Bruin fans from around that area show up to get the first look at this year's team and help root the Bruins on.