Friday, December 29, 2006

Lil' B comes up big vs. Poly

His first dribble of the game, off the opening tip, was a showy albeit nonchalant blur between his legs as he crossed over and danced his way up the floor.
His first shot a few seconds later, from about 20 feet out and directly in front of where Cal Poly head coach Kevin Bromley was sitting, slipped through the net without even thinking about grazing the rim on the way by.
Cal State Fullerton’s Bobby Brown, wearing socks that donned the NBA logo on each side, has the flashy game to go with the flashy name. And the 6-2 senior guard had it all going in Thursday night’s Big West Conference-opening win over the Mustangs.
A game-high 28 points. A game-high eight assists. Zero turnovers.
“L.B.,” as his coach Bob Burton calls him, “was absolutely terrific in all phases of the game.”
Yes, Burton and the Titans feel lucky to have “Little B” this season after testing the NBA Draft waters following his junior season. Brown later withdrew his name from the pool but not before working out for the Clippers and Lakers and attending a Pre-Draft Camp in Orlando.
His game has been evolving ever since.
When Brown wasn’t sinking five of his eight three-point attempts Thursday, the true-point-guard-in-the-making was tossing alley-oops to his high-flying forwards. When he wasn’t supplying the highlight-reel feeds, he was coming up with steals and uncontested throwdowns at the other end.
It’s just one game, but Brown has emerged as the frontrunner for Big West Player of the Year honors.
Then again, he might’ve won that earlier this month when he dropped a school-record 47 points in a game, hitting 11 threes in a win over Bethune-Cookman earlier this year.
“I’m just having fun out there, man,” Brown said. “Every time I go out there I’m having fun with my teammates because I’m playing with a bunch of guys I’ve grown up with. This is something I’ve been planning and wanting to happen for a long time.”

Friday, December 22, 2006

Homecoming of sorts for Mustang trio

It’ll be interesting to see what kind of reception the Cal Poly players with Fresno ties receive Saturday night when the Mustangs men's basketball team plays at Fresno State.
Sophomore forward Titus Shelton is a Clovis West High graduate.
Freshman guard Rick Higgins is the son of Rod Higgins, one of the biggest names in Fresno State basketball history.
Rod Higgins played at Fresno State from 1979-82 and was a two-time All-American. He led the Bulldogs to NCAA Tournament appearances in 1981 and '82 when they went to the Sweet 16. He is listed is listed among Fresno State's Top 25 athletes of the last century.
Higgins (shown miniature golfing with a young Michael Jordan during their days with the Bulls) played 13 seasons (1982–1995) in the NBA with the Chicago Bulls, Seattle SuperSonics, San Antonio Spurs, New Jersey Nets, Golden State Warriors, Sacramento Kings and Cleveland Cavaliers.
Then there's assistant coach Wil Hooker who played and coached at Fresno State.
Hooker played at Fresno State from 1988-92, finishing his career as the all-time leading scorer in program history, according to Bulldogs homer Joshua D. Scroggin.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Mustangs keep their cool

In the box score, it went down as nothing more than Northern Arizona guard Riley Van Patten’s third personal foul late in an 82-60 blowout loss to Cal Poly.
But for the 1,467 fans on hand for Tuesday’s men’s basketball game in Mott Gym, it was a noteworthy play that shouldn’t go overlooked.
It happened with just under six minutes remaining and the Mustangs leading by almost 30 points (it was 71-42 to be exact).
The play starts with a loose ball at midcourt in a game that’s been out of reach since halftime, but players are still hustling and even leaving their feet to save the possession.
One thing leads to another and there’s an NFL-like pile taking place in the middle of Mott Gym.
During the scrum, some players are battling for position while others are pulling players off each other thinking the play was dead.
But no whistles are being blown, or at least none are being heard, so Cal Poly forward Dreshawn Vance, Van Patten and others continued to scrap for the prized Spalding.
Some pushing takes place. Some words are exchanged. Players on both benches rise to their feet. But in the end the three officials are able to restore order just as fans are having flashbacks of Saturday’s Nuggets-Knicks melee (see video below).
Maybe Saturday's Fight Night at Madison Square Garden -- which also occurred late in a frustrating blowout loss and resulted in 10 ejections and thousands of dollars in fines -- was on the minds of the players too as cooler heads prevailed and nothing more than a few dirty looks were exchanged.
After a brief delay, the officials agreed no blows were thrown and only Van Patten was whistled for a personal foul.
No technicals. No ejections. No “brawl ball” headlines in Wednesday’s paper.
Hey, maybe there was some benefit from Saturday's brawl after all.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Plenty of options for Poly football

There are two words pass-happy football fans never want to hear:

"Triple option."

Rumors of triple option at Cal Poly have been circulating around campus since the tail end of the 2006 season when the Mustangs' passing game struggled to get off the ground under second-year quarterback Matt Brennan.
Since the season ended, I've heard a number of people close to the program joke about a possible switch from a spread option to more of a triple-option approach.
I laughed off what I thought were tongue-in-cheek comments and figured it was just that ... a joke.
But after finding out former Righetti High star running back Ryan Mole was transferring to Cal Poly from Sacramento State, I realized this might not be a joke after all. With backs like Mole, James Noble and Fred Hives II in the backfield, the Mustangs might be headed in that direction.
For those who aren't familiar with the triple option, here's a good explanation by ESPN's Bob Davie.
Basically, the scheme is built on a two-running back set that gives the quarterback three options: keep it himself, get it to the fullback, or pitch it to the slotback. Notice that passing isn't mentioned as one of the options.
The triple option made headlines earlier this week when Air Force head coach Fisher DeBerry, considered the authority on the triple option, resigned after 23 seasons.
Running DeBerry's latest edition of the triple option, Air Force ran the ball 660 times and passed just 146 times in 2006 (running 82% of the time). By comparison, Cal Poly's spread option ran 475 times and attempted 174 passes (already running 73% percent of the time).
Cal Poly actually tinkered with a two-back set against North Dakota State late in the season, with Hives lining up at fullback and Noble moving to slotback for the first time. It was a unique formation the Mustangs have rarely used in head coach Rich Ellerson's six years, but one they broke out shortly after learning Mole wanted to come to Cal Poly.
Coincidence? I guess only time will tell.
After the season, I asked Ellerson if there was a chance Cal Poly would utilize the two-back set more in 2007, or if any other changes were in store for the Mustangs' offense. Here was his take, two days after the season finale with Savannah State:
"In this system, there are certainly some things that we want to get into that right now we're not doing," Ellerson said. "But what we've done, and what we do well, that's still the foundation of anything we'll go to in the future."
In other words, wait until spring ball and find out for yourself.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

The Buck stops here

For an unprecedented third straight year, a Cal Poly football player has won the Buck Buchanan Award.
Linebacker Jordan Beck (2004) and defensive end Chris Gocong (2005) ran away with the award the previous two seasons.
This year, it was senior linebacker Kyle Shotwell who took home the award, edging out James Madison linebacker Akeem Jordan on Thursday as Division I-AA’s top defensive player.
As relieved as Shotwell was to finally emerge from the shadow of the two NFL defenders before him, he pointed out the Mustangs’ three Buchanan award winners had a lot in common during their playing days at Cal Poly.
“All three of us really love the game and enjoy getting better at the game,” he said in a phone interview from Chattanooga, Tenn. “Coming into college, we didn’t exactly know where our careers were headed. All we knew is that we wanted to be the best and pushed each other to be that way. That’s the common denominator, we were never satisfied with being average and that was contagious.”
How will Shotwell celebrate the Mustangs’ third straight Buchanan award?
On Friday, he’ll attend the Division I-AA Championship Game between Appalachian State and UMass, wondering what could have been if the Mustangs had made it to the 16-team playoffs.
On Saturday, he’ll be watching his old friend Beck and the Atlanta Falcons host the Dallas Cowboys, wondering what it would feel like to play in the NFL.
But if Beck or Gocong’s paths to the league are any indicator, Shotwell could find out soon enough.
“That’ll be fun watching Jordan play again,” he said, “because he’s a good friend, a guy whose footsteps I’ve been following at Cal Poly.”

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Stevenson stays true to his word

Cal Poly volleyball coach Jon Stevenson was so frustrated by Saturday’s second-round NCAA Tournament loss to Cal that he initially refused to speak with the media afterward.
After some prodding by athletic director Alison Cone and Co., the fiery coach (and beach volleyball coverboy in this June 1988 Volleyball Monthly) eventually spoke at a mandated news conference, discussing the disappointment that came with the 30-24, 30-26, 23-30, 30-20 downfall in Mott Gym.
Following a few therapeutic responses about his team’s breakdowns, Stevenson was able to reflect on what has been a pretty remarkable turnaround for his program.
Cal Poly’s second-year coach needed just those two years to turn a 5-24 program into a NCAA Tournament team.
Not that it caught anyone by surprise.
Stevenson did the same thing at St. Mary’s from 2002-04, taking a five-win program — which had just one winning season in 15 years — to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament.
He even pulled off a turnaround at Sonoma State from 2000-01, needing just two seasons to turn a 6-20 program into a 22-11 team ranked in the top 10 of Division II's Pacific Region.
On Friday, Cal Poly joined the turnaround club, beating Michigan for its first NCAA Tournament victory at home since 1989.
It was the same reversal of fortunes Stevenson predicted at the same podium in February 2005 when he was announced as the program’s next head volleyball coach.
“I have no doubt, with the will of these young student-athletes here,” he said at the time, “and that drive that I have and the nice facet I'm going to put together, that we are going to be able to do the same thing here.”