Though Monday marked the first day of practice for the Cal State Bakersfield men’s basketball program, head coach Rod Barnes said the team’s journey still hasn’t begun.
Last season’s run to the National Invitation Tournament semifinal at Madison Square Garden remains on Barnes’ mind.
“It’s kind of in our view and I kind of want to get it in our rearview so we can focus on this team,” Barnes said.
That won’t happen until Nov. 10 when CSUB opens the regular season at home against Whittier College, Barnes said. The Western Athletic Conference’s 2017 champions will be honored with a banner and the players will get their rings.
Last year's postseason run and the program’s first NCAA Tournament appearance in 2016 set standards for the Roadrunners’ that Barnes doesn’t want his new-look squad to drop off from.
“We don’t want to take any steps back,” Barnes said. “... When you’ve lost as much as we’ve lost over the last two years, if we can come back and to have a great year (that) says something about where our program is.”
CSUB has been a team that typically relies on seniors. It was Aly Ahmed and Kevin Mays that fueled the run to the NCAA Tournament. Seniors Dedrick Basile, Jaylin Airington and Matt Smith were three of the team’s top four scorers last year.
But Barnes is excited about his crop of newcomers that he thinks makes this a deeper team than in the past. Junior guard transfer Rickey Holden and freshman Jarkel Joiner can both contribute right away, Barnes said, because of their offensive abilities.
Holden averaged 13.3 points and 4.9 assists per game at Jones County Community College in Mississippi in 2016-17. Joiner came from Oxford High School (Miss.), where his 36.5 points per game was the second-highest scoring average in the nation among seniors.
Redshirt freshmen Justin Davis and Greg Lee will be thrust into the rotation, also.
“Probably our younger guys or our newer players will play a bigger factor earlier in the year than what they’ve ever done in the past,” Barnes said.
They understand the culture that has been building at CSUB, Barnes said, and have been focused and easy to coach.
Redshirt senior guard Brent Wrapp injured his foot and is out indefinitely, Barnes said. Rapp’s injury could be a positive, Barnes added, because it forces the younger players to step up in practice.
The veteran production will have to come from 3-point ace Damiyne Durham -- who came off the bench in his redshirt sophomore year -- and senior forward Shon Briggs. Briggs and Wrapp both need to improve their outside shooting, Barnes said. Durham’s weakness is his defense.
With games at Arizona, Arkansas and UCLA this season, Barnes said it’s the team’s “toughest schedule by far.” But it gives the Roadrunners a chance to take another step and matchup up with three NCAA Tournament teams from last year.
Barnes’ goal for the new team and new season is simple: reach its potential. But it’s still too early to tell precisely what that is.
“We’ll find out over the next month or so what kind of potential we have,” Barnes said. “... Do I think we’re talented enough to make a run or make it to the NCAA Tournament or to postseason play? Yeah.”