Another Fall semester means another chance for the Long Beach State men’s basketball team to make a run at returning to the NCAA tournament, something it hasn’t done since the 2011 season. However, the return of last year’s leading scorer Mike Caffey and an infusion of a talented recruiting haul and transfers from other programs could see the 49ers’ season continue into the madness of March.
Long Beach signed a recruiting class that included four high school seniors (Justin Bibbins, Temidayo Yussuf, Jack Williams and Deontae North) that helped guide their respective schools to state championship games in April. Head Coach Dan Monson said that while recruiting, talent is sought out but character is just as important because “winning is something you just can’t teach.” However, winning championships is something that Monson expects at the outset of every year. “We’re trying to take this program to another level and it starts with good recruiting,” Monson said. “We expect to contend for championships every year.”
Winning and making it back to the big dance in March will be a challenge for the 8th year coach as his team will once again face one of the hardest non-conference schedules in the country. The school’s schedule, announced earlier this month, includes eight teams that played in the NCAA tournament last year, three of which advanced to the Sweet 16.
The schedule includes road games against perennial contenders Syracuse, UCLA, Louisville and Texas as well as a home date with Kansas State and an appearance in the Wooden Legacy Tournament over Thanksgiving weekend. In total, The Beach will play ten teams that made it to postseason play and 11 that won 20 or more games. Monson, who is just three wins away from tying Hall of Fame coach Jerry Tarkanian for the all-time school record, said that having a tough schedule is part of building a national brand and that he expects the team to start winning these high profile-type games.
"As we continue our quest to build our program into one of national prominence, it begins with a national schedule," Monson said in a release. "I think we've done that again this year. The next step is to get to the point where we're not just playing these national teams, but experiencing success against them, which is the goal for this season and moving forward.”
The team's cause may be helped out by the fact that it’s as rife with experience as it is talent; this year's team has seven seniors on its roster, including Caffey, Tyler Lamb and new transfers Erick McKnight (Florida Gulf Coast) and Nick Faust (Maryland).
The 49ers also gain the services of Roschon Prince, who transfers to The Beach after spending one year at the University of Southern California. Prince starred at Long Beach Poly where he was named the 2013 California Gatorade Player of the Year, and was regarded as a top recruit before committing to the Trojans.
McKnight will be immediately eligible because he’s a fifth year graduate student, but Faust and Prince will redshirt per NCAA regulations. Despite not being able to play this year, Monson was happy with their additions as their depth will help solidify the program going forward.
“Roschon and Nick are two athletic wings that will give us experience at the wing position after the graduation of Tyler Lamb, A.J. Spencer, and McKay Lasalle, who are all seniors this season," Monson said. "They will both really solidify our backcourt for the future.”
The road back to March starts November 14 when the 49ers travel to Provo, Utah to take on the BYU Cougars in their season opener.