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Henry A. Barrios / The Californian

Henry A. Barrios / The Californian CSUB's Stephon Carter is in his senior year at the university.

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Henry A. Barrios / The Californian

Former Garces High standout basketball player Stephon Carter has become a leader in his senior year at CSUB.

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TBC

Stephon Carter, who had a sensational career at Garces High, has become a leader in CSUB's basketball team as he enters his senior season.

Throughout the Division I history of Cal State Bakersfield men's basketball, it seems like Stephon Carter has been the one constant.

Carter, a highly recruited high school senior out of Garces, chose CSUB four years ago and was immediately heralded as the program's first top-notch Division I recruit.

And now, as Carter is about to start his final year of college basketball, he is rewarded with competing on a winning team. And he's closing in on the school's career scoring record.

The Roadrunners went 16-15 last season and earned the program's first postseason berth in the CollegeInsider.com tournament in coach Rod Barnes' first season at the helm.

The goals are even higher this year, Carter said. CSUB enters its final season as a Division I independent before it joins the Western Athletic Conference for the 2013-14 season.

"We expect to win 20 games," Carter said. "If we don't get 20 wins, we don't think it's a successful season."

Carter suffered through 7-22 and 9-19 seasons in his first two seasons at CSUB. Now the talent level around him is much higher and the wins have followed.

The CSUB scoring record is held by Kenny Warren, who had 1,521 points in his four seasons from 1990-94. Carter, seventh on the all-time list, needs 372 to pass Warren, and 150 to pass the next five and move into second place.

"It would be nice to get it and be a part of history," Carter said.

Warren's record is within reach. Carter's scoring totals in his first three seasons were 376 points his freshman year, 400 as a sophomore and 374 last season.

Ironically, one factor that could prevent Carter from breaking the record is the talent that now surrounds him.

"By far" it's the best talent he's played with as a college player, Carter said. Which means the scoring will likely be spread out among more players.

But Carter remains one of the team's go-to players, Barnes said.

"The thing is, he's got to get baskets for us to be successful. We won't change that," the coach said.

What Barnes seeks from Carter is better shot selection. Because of the talent surrounding him, Carter won't need to launch an inordinate number of shots each game.

"Our hope this year is to cut down on the number of shots he takes," Barnes said. "What we want is a higher shooting percentage but with fewer attempts, along with better free-throw percentage and better 3-point shooting percentage."

Carter said he has spent the off-season working on his shooting.

"Last year I averaged 12 points," Carter said. "I shot 20 percent from the 3. I shot 66-67 percent from the free-throw line.

"If I shoot 35 percent from 3 and 77 percent from the free-throw line, that's 18-19 points (per game). That's what I've strived for, to get my free throws and my jump shots more consistent."

Carter has also taken on more of a leadership role this season. He isn't shy about verbally building up teammates.

"I'm an energetic person," he said. "Especially when I play I like to talk. I'm real active. I just want to lead by example, to let them know I'm coming to play every day regardless if I'm sick, hurt or sore. Coaches want me to do that so that's what I'm doing."

In his first three seasons, Carter was frequently assigned to defend the opponent's top guard.

That will likely continue this season, but Carter again has help.

Brandon Barnes, Rod Barnes' son, and Javonte Maynor are capable of stepping into that role if Carter gets into foul trouble. But there's talent everywhere, Carter said.

"We're stacked up. The team is deep," he said. "That's what we strive for: having depth. Practices have been intense."

CSUB's fans will see an improved team from last season, Carter said.

"We're athletic. We're going to get up and down the floor. You'll see a lot of fun," he said.

"Our team is a lot of individuals from all over the country -- Portland to California to Chicago to Barbados, to down South to New York. Seeing it all come together is a great thing. Our chemistry on the court is incredible."

Carter nearly left CSUB when former coach Keith Brown was fired after the 2010-11 season.

"I was set in stone," Carter said of his plans to transfer. "I was leaving. I told myself if they didn't bring in a viable, top-notch coach, I wasn't staying, and I really didn't think Cal State would bring in a coach of his (Barnes') caliber."

Carter said he changed his mind after he researched Barnes' background and met him. And staying paid off.

"Being a part of the first winning Division I team at Cal State was a great thing," Carter said. "Now we're in the WAC and I feel like I'm part of history.

"The reason I committed here was to help Cal State start this program, to help get the prestige up, the history, the tradition. I feel I've done that."

Carter has a redshirt year remaining, if he chooses to use it. If he sat out this season, he would be able to play on CSUB's first WAC team. But that isn't going to happen.

"I graduate next spring and I want to get this done with," said Carter, a liberal studies major who said he hopes to teach and coach at the elementary school or junior high school levels.

"It would be great to play in the WAC, but I take it as being the sacrificial lamb. I was here four years transitioning (from CSUB's Division II move to Division I). Ten years from now and they're in the WAC and doing well, that's just as good as me playing in it. It's a bittersweet feeling but I'm happy."

Barnes said he appreciates Carter's dedication to the program and work ethic.

"He's a guy I've enjoyed coaching," Barnes said. "He loves to play and practices hard every day. As we continue to build the program, he is one of the guys who has been a huge foundation to our starting blocks."

Barnes said Carter has also played a role in recruiting.

"A lot of the guys we have he helped recruit. He spent time with them when they visited," Barnes said.

Carter said Barnes' philosophy has been a huge factor in CSUB's turnaround.

"He's done everything he said he would do," Carter said. "We had a winning season and he brought in great players in back-to-back years. And we're in the WAC so the program can't go anywhere but up."