Coming into the 2008-09 season, the Cal State Fullerton Titans were ranked fourth in the Big West. Last year they tied for the regular season conference championship and made it to the elite eight of the NCAA tournament. But after opening this season with a 6-7 record, Head Coach Bob Burton, who is in his sixth season with the Titans and has compiled a record of 92-60 in his five previous seasons, does not believe they deserve that ranking.
“Right now I think we should be ranked 114th if they had 113 schools,” Burton said. “We should probably be ranked lower than [fourth].”
Though the team achieved a high level of success last season, Coach Burton did not expect more of the same this season. He knew that this was going to be a tough year. So even though Coach Burton is not pleased with the results, he is not entirely surprised either.
“We are exactly where we thought we would be right now, so these were our expectations, but we really thought we would be more improved by now,” Burton said.
Burton knew what to expect the moment he saw his roster and schedule for this season. He knew then that his team did not have an easy road ahead.
“The problem with us is that we only have two returning players,” Burton said. “This whole year has been set up for disaster because we have so many new players and because of the difficulty of the schedule.”
“Any coach will tell you that the success of your season depends on your schedule,” Burton said.
The two returning players are senior guards Josh Akognon and Marcio Lassiter. As the only returning players and two of Fullerton’s top four players, Akognon and Lassiter know it is their job to step up and lead the younger players through a tough season. Each of them knows that there is always something they can do to get that extra bit of effort out of their teammates.
“[I can] set the tone, work hard in practice, show them how to take care of their bodies and if the coaches are giving them a hard time, I can pull them aside and get their heads straight,” Lassiter said.
Akognon also feels the responsibility of being a leader on his team, and he knows how to keep his team heading in the right direction.
“Just [show] them to work hard in practice and get everybody energized, and if they had a bad day just let them know that it’s not the end of the world,” Akognon said.
Akognon is the Titans’ best player and leading scorer. He has scored 317 of Fullerton’s 993 points and averages 24.4 points per game, which is also the highest average in the Big West. In comparison, the Titans’ second highest scorer is junior forward Gerard Anderson, who has scored 128 points and averages 10.7 points per game. Lassiter has scored 112 points and averages 9.3 points per game.
Although Akognon has played so well, he knows that there are some things that he must do better in order for his team to succeed.
“I could be a lot more efficient, and I need to get better at getting to the holes and making more plays for my teammates,” Akognon said.
Just as he has high expectations for himself, Akognon also expects his teammates to play at a high level each game.
“[I expect them to] knock down open shots and do what they needed to do to get recruited here,” Akognon said. “As far as the guards, I expect shooting and good passes.”
Despite the unfortunate circumstances that the Titans found themselves in to start the season, there are signs that point to better things to come. Coach Burton can see them, as can Marcio Lassiter. According to Lassiter, the team’s strength lies in their ability to run transitions and fast breaks effectively. He believes this ability will help them in the future.
“We run a lot of transitions and fast breaks,” Lassiter said. “We score a lot of points, and getting a lot of fast breaks puts a lot of pressure on the [opposing] defense.”
Coach Burton, despite knowing that his team has a long way to go, also knows that his team is good at some things that will help them in the future.
“Right now, we are not bad defensively,” Burton said. “We’ve been holding teams in the lower 40 percent [in shooting]. The major problem has been two things: We are really bad at rebounding, and we need to improve offensively; it’s really been a one man show with Josh [Akognon].”
For the Titans to improve, according to Burton, the team needs what everyone needs to improve at practice.
“The biggest thing for us is just trying to get practice in,” Burton said. “It’s been very hard playing so many games. You see the same mistakes, but what can you do? The second thing is we need to get some success, we need to get the guys some confidence.”
According to Coach Burton, the top three teams in the conference this season are, in no particular order, UC Santa Barbara, CSU Northridge and the University of the Pacific. And though his Titans were conference champions last year, as of right now, Coach Burton does not believe that his team will finish as one of the top teams in the conference this year.
“I just hope we start to improve,” Burton said. “That’s my biggest thing. As far as how we’re going to do in the league, right now we’re not even going to be one of the top teams in the league.”