No one will accuse veterans on the Cal State Bakersfield men's basketball team of lacking confidence.
From De'Monte Buckingham saying the team was going to "wake everybody up" after CSUB was picked to finish in the bottom half of the WAC standings to Justin Edler-Davis proclaiming he was planning an elaborate dance routine for "when we win the WAC championship," the team clearly isn't aiming for the middle.
Even after an up-and-down non-conference run, where inconsistent play and a tough schedule produced a 6-9 record, the Roadrunners' confidence doesn't appear to be waning going into Saturday's conference opener against Grand Canyon.
"We're very excited just to be able to get this first win and hopefully, with no disrespect, punch them in the mouth," junior guard Taze Moore said of his expectations for Saturday.
Even if the production hasn't always been what they expect, Moore and other leaders don't plan to hold back on the bravado going forward, believing such talk is a good way to get the team to reach its full potential.
“I feel like a lot of people should have big goals for themselves," he said. "I feel like a lot of people should hold themselves to a higher standard being in the sport we’re in. So if you don’t have that self-confidence, or your not holding yourself accountable or your teammates accountable, then it’s easy to be a mediocre person.”
Hoping to make a good first impression in 2020, CSUB takes on a 5-9 Antelope team that comes to Bakersfield after enduring its own non-conference disappointments.
Prize transfer Jaylen Fisher left the team before playing a minute for GCU, and the Antelopes began the season in embarrassing fashion, losing 82-73 to Division II Davenport (Mich.) University.
But after being predicted to finish second in the WAC in the preseason, the Antelopes still bring a skilled offense that has five double-digit scorers. The attack is led by 6-foot-10 center Alessandro Lever, who CSUB coach Rod Barnes called the best big man in the conference.
Lever enters Saturday ranked fifth in conference in scoring (15.2 points per game) and fourth in shooting percentage (54.4). He's been particularly efficient in his last two outings, scoring 42 points on 19-of-23 shooting.
The 'Runners, who rank second in the WAC averaging 72.1 points per game, will likely have plenty of opportunities to score against a Grand Canyon defense allowing an average of 72.6 points, the second worst total in the league.
With several key players experiencing conference play at the Division I level for the first time, veterans who've been through it before say much of the week has been spent focusing on being detail-oriented as they prepare for the most important stretch of the season.
"Guys that don’t really know what’s going on, you want to make sure they know how important things are, especially going into conference play," Edler-Davis said. "We don’t really have time for mess ups. Every game’s going to be so close so we want to make sure everyone knows what’s going on, knows the scouting reports. And it’s our responsibility to make sure that happens.”
Barnes and his staff are echoing a similar message.
"The level of everyone's play is going to go up starting this week," Barnes said. "And we need to be prepared to have ours go up too."