As the Fullerton men’s basketball team (12-3 overall, 3-1 Big West) chewed through its preseason schedule, humbling one mid-major opponent after another with bewildering swiftness and a rapidly maturing NBA prospect leading the charge, the squad recorded its best season start in nearly a quarter-century.
One game into Big West play the team’s record was 10-2, with one of those losses coming at the hands of #1 UCLA. But after a trip to the Thunderdome in game two, their Big West record stood at a surprising 1-1 and senior point guard Bobby Brown had never looked so human.
“They’re quicker than we are; they’re quicker than everyone in the league,” UCSB Head Coach Bob Williams said. “Nobody matches up with that. But we did contain them for the most part in the transition game and threw a little press at them, which slowed them up a bit. [But] trust me, they’ll make adjustments.”
For a team built for speed, and without a big man in the center, the press proved crippling for the Titans as they struggled to create some rhythm on the court.
Brown shot only two-for-12 from beyond the arc en route to posting a measly 10 points the whole night. Unlike most squads in the Big West, Fullerton’s success can hinge upon scoring from the point guard position, as that is one of Brown’s main skill areas.
“He’s really a different point guard in the fact that he’s really a scorer, and he’s always been,” Fullerton Head Coach Bob Burton said. “I’ve really never played with a scoring point guard in all the years I’ve been coaching, so I’ve had to adjust to it the last four that he’s been here and change my thinking on how to coach because the thing he does best is score.”
Entering his senior season, Brown has already scored more three-pointers than any player in Fullerton history and is on pace to become the all-time scoring leader, with 255 points already this season.
But after spending his off-season exploring his options in the pros and attending a number of NBA team camps, Bobby opted out of the draft to play out his eligibility in a Titan uniform, which is a decision Big West opponents will come to lament.
“He really was hoping to go out after [last] year, [but] then he got in there and saw [there] were things he needed to work on to get to the NBA,” Burton said. “It was a tremendous teaching tool for me [and has] made things a lot easier for us because he’s come back and really made a tremendous effort on defending and becoming more of a point guard than just a scorer.”
And unfortunately for Burton, the problem with defense runs much deeper than just Brown.
For instance, on Nov. 27, the Titans scored in triple digits but still lost by 10 points. And although they opened Big West play with a victory down in San Luis Obispo, their porous defense allowed the Mustangs (6-8, 1-3 Big West) to pad their scoring stats with 91 points.
“We were playing pretty good defense [in preseason], but for some reason we’ve just hit a wall lately and we’re not defending like we’re capable,” Burton said.
With all their preseason dominance in the books, the Titans are forced to face the fact that their speed and offense alone cannot carry them through a challenging conference schedule. To have success down the road, they will need increased support from Brown’s supporting cast.
Junior forward Scott Cutley has shown flashes of brilliance in sporadic bursts this season, as the second-best scorer on the team with 170 points thus far; while Brown floundered under Santa Barbara’s press, Cutley had 25 points in the loss.
Junior guards Frank Robinson and Ray Reed, senior forward Justin Burns and sophomore guard Marcus Crenshaw have also done their part to see their team rise to a tremendous preseason, but their team needs them now more than ever.
And to complete the story of the 2007 Fullerton Titans in its entirety, trifling scandal must inevitably be a part. Three of the premier six players on Fullerton’s roster were forced to sit out the first three contests of the season after the team self-reported a NCAA rule violation perpetrated by Brown, Cutley and Robinson.
“They had added books for walk-on kids, trying to help them out, not really knowing it was a NCAA violation,” Burton said. “We had really two seasons here, one getting ready without those guys and one when they came back; [but] I thought they all blended in very well.”
But with the addition of those key players back to the Titan roster, Fullerton was able to get back into shape in the most recent game, a 76-70 victory over Pacific, in which the squad snapped its previous six-game losing streak to the Tigers. Brown sunk the most baskets of the night, netting 21 points and three rebounds; Cutley who scored 16 points and nine rebounds. This team without a doubt was hurt during the suspension period of its two top scorers.
It seems as if Big West competition is heating up. After only four conference games, Fullerton is poised to become one of the top presences in the Big West, as it currently sits just one win out of first place, behind Long Beach.