As the top college basketball teams in the country continue to march through March Madness, Cal State Bakersfield coach Rod Barnes is preparing for next season, when his Roadrunners will make their debut in a Division I league, the Western Athletic Conference.
Barnes and the Roadrunners will return with the dream of getting the WAC's automatic NCAA berth at the conference tournament in Las Vegas.
CSUB completed a 14-16 season that saw senior guard Stephon Carter become the program's all-time career scoring leader. But the season's hopes were derailed by several key injuries.
Barnes discussed the 2012-13 season and looks ahead to 2013-14 at a post-season press conference.
Q: Talk about the strong finish, when CSUB won its last four games.
A: I was excited, real proud of our kids. I thought we played well our last two games. It was a good way to end the season. Our seniors went out on a good note.
Q: On a 1-to-10 scale, where would you rank this 2012-13 team?
A: Wow. That's tough. ... We thought we'd have a team that could win 18 to 20 games. But with our injuries and the guys who had to sit out for these particular reasons, probably a 7. Through all the adversity. Starting out and losing all those games early (an 0-4 start). We stayed together. Neither of our point guards had any experience as far as playing the point guard position. ... It ended up being a good season. As a coach, you always want a little bit more. I thought they gave us everything they could give us as a group.
Q: Pick the highlights for this season.
A: The first thing: to beat South Dakota State. South Dakota State is a very, very strong program.
The other things: winning four games in a row. That’s hard to do, especially at this time of the year. And winning two of those games on the road.
The third thing was being a part of Stephon becoming the all-time leading scorer. That’s a pretty special thing for me. I thought he had a wonderful season. I thought his numbers were good. He did some great things for us defensively and he made plays at the end of games to help us win.
Q: What about next year?
A: I’m excited. We’re at a good place. We lost some good players (Carter, Tyrone White and Adam Young were seniors). We had some players that sat out who will give us a good foundation. Losing Stephon is a key thing, and losing Tyrone and Adam, guys who have been in our program.
But we have a veteran group that has been together. We’ll get our starting point guard back (Issiah Grayson). (In 2011-12) Zach Lamb was one of our top scorers.
We’ll have size up front with (6-foot-11) Zach Smith and (6-10 Abdul Ahmed) sitting out (the 2012-13 season).
So I feel like we’ve got a lot of good pieces. And we’ve got guys who are returning that we think will get better. We’re still in the process of trying to add one or two more guys. ... We’ll have a good group of seniors next year, but we’ll also have a group of juniors and we’ll have a few underclassmen. We feel we’ve got a good mix of players.
Q: What about recruiting? You had three seniors this year. Does that mean you have three scholarships available?
A: Two. One of them is because we have a kid, Stefon Johnson, who is not on scholarship right now but will be on scholarship. We’re looking to sign two people.
Q: What are you targeting?
A: Right now we’re in the process of recruiting point guards, whether we start those guys or move Issiah off the ball, whatever we decide to do. We feel we have to sign at least one guy out of the two that can help at the point, to make great assists and make life easier for the other guys.
Q: Talk about Stefon Johnson (a 6-foot-6 forward transfer from Gardner-Webb with one year of eligibility remaining).
A: He’s a guy with a mixture of some guys we’ve had. His strength is a lot like Rashad Savage was.
But his shooting ability and facing-up ability is a lot like Donald Johnson. He plays a position that often times is involved with the offense because he’s good enough to be on the perimeter. But he’s strong enough to be in the post.
We’re anticipating for him to definitely be an impact player.
Q: Talk about joining the WAC next season.
A: That brings a different type of attitude with your players. ... It is exciting. You can’t help but be excited when you see a team like Liberty that’s 15-20 going to the Big Dance.
That’s the great opportunity we have here at CSUB. ... We’ve got the chance to get to the Big Dance. Obviously, we’re excited about that.
Q: As the WAC stands, who do you see as the team to beat?
A: New Mexico State. They return a bunch of guys. They have great size. They’ve done well this year. They’ve had success. I don’t think any of us will be surprised if they’re picked to win it next year.
Q: Of players who were injured or redshirted this year, who will return next season?
A: Zach Lamb, Issiah, Zach Smith, (Ahmed), Stefon Johnson, Mo Hughley.
Q: Many of your recruits have come from the Southeastern part of the country. Will that continue?
A: We recruit from all over the country. Most of the kids we’re looking at are from California.
Q: Will the recruits be junior college transfers or freshmen?
A: Best player.
Q: Who is confirmed on your schedule next season?
A: Washington State. We’re going up there. Nevada has to return a game here. We have returning games with Sacramento State and Santa Clara. ... And we’ll probably play UCLA or USC.
Q: Is the Big West still boycotting you?
A: Still boycotting.
Q: What about Fresno State?
A: We’re trying to start something with them. Nothing’s been signed yet.