Senior giving 49ers a big lift

first_imgCan a gymnasium’s or arena’s location make that much difference in coach Larry Reynolds’ team’s performance? Apparently, it has a lot to do with the opponents’ mindsets in front of their home crowds and the mindsets of the 49ers in buildings other than the Walter Pyramid. “It was like we almost had no `sense of urgency’ until we were down (by 25 points) at Irvine,” said Houston, averaging 10.6 points and 4.5 assists per game, before a practice in the Walter Pyramid last week. “We can’t allow that to happen again. Hopefully, we’ve learned our lesson.” The 5-foot-10 graduate of San Gorgonio High is operating with his own “sense of urgency” these days, on and off the court. He’s enrolled in the four classes he needs this semester to finish up his coursework and pick up his bachelor’s degree in communications in late May. “It took me a while (at Long Beach) to find out what I wanted to do,” he said, the day after the spring semester had started last week. “But then I took a couple of communications classes, liked them, and decided I wanted to major in it. “I’m not sure what I’m going to do (for a career) but it will give me a lot of options. It’s given me the skills that can help me in almost any kind of business or profession I get into. And it definitely prepares you to speak and communicate in crowds or in front of groups and not be very nervous.” And there is the urgent on-court business on hand, not only for Houston but each of the other six Long Beach seniors: This is their final opportunity to play in an NCAA Tournament. “Long Beach State vs. …” hasn’t popped up on the television screen during a CBS NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament Selection Show since 1995, when Utah was the “vs.,” Seth Greenberg was the 49ers’ coach and UCLA ultimately was the national champion. “Going through our whole (college) careers without being a part of it (the NCAA Tournament)? That would be kind of messed up,” he said. “We got close last year (losing in the Big West Tournament final to Pacific) and this year I think we can do it.” Houston started 26 of the 57 games he played in during his first two seasons, averaging 5.3 points and 3.3 assists per game as a freshman and 6.7 and 3.3, respectively, as a sophomore. But there was no talk of a trip to the NCAA Tournament by February of those seasons, which ended with 6-21 and 10-20 records. “It was tough,” he said, “because I came here wanting to be a part of something that would turn things around (right away) and obviously that didn’t happen. Like most of the guys who were here, I had never been in a losing program.” He looks back on the seasons with a heavy dose of perspective, though. “I’d take back the record, but not the experience,” he said. “You learn so much through the adversity.” Statistically (he led the 49ers in steals and assists, shot .460 from the field and was fifth in scoring at 8.6 ppg) he turned in his best performance last season, when Long Beach won seven games in a row before losing in the conference final to finish 18-12. But, immediately following the season, when, with the addition of guards Aaron Nixon and Kejuan Johnson, he started only 12 times and averaged 22 minutes per game, he wasn’t sure he wanted to play as a senior at Long Beach. And he said as much to Reynolds. “I can’t complain, because we had some good guards on the team,” he said, measuring his words carefully. “But I wanted to make sure that me, the coach and the rest of the team were on the same page. Yeah, I was considering it (leaving). But I loved the school, too, and I knew we were going to be good. It took some time and I had to consult with my parents and they gave me some good advice. And I think I made a good decision (to stay), just as I think I made a good decision when I came here (originally).” Houston has been exceptional during conference play, averaging 12.3 points, 3.3 rebounds, 5.0 assists and only 2.0 turnovers per game. “He’s playing at a very, very high level for us and doing a great job of distributing the ball and getting everyone involved,” Reynolds said. Was there much of a concern Houston wouldn’t be in uniform this season? “You don’t begrudge guys who want to play more; you want that,” Reynolds added. “That’s natural for guys who are very competitive and have a good deal of talent. “He wasn’t happy and he expressed that. But I didn’t think, at any point, that he wouldn’t be with us (this season).” 49ERS NOTES: The 49ers beat Cal Poly, 77-70, on Jan. 6. Since that trip to the Walter Pyramid, coach Kevin Bromley’s team has won five of six games to improve to 3-4 in conference and 11-9 overall. … Six-five Derek Stockalper, a first-team all-Big West selection last season, leads the Mustangs in scoring (12.9 points) and rebounds (6.8 per game). … In the absence of Kejuan Johnson and Mark Dawson during the 49ers’ games with Cal State Northridge and Pacific last week, freshman guard Tim Island (10 points and four rebounds in 26 minutes) and junior post Travon Free (10 points, while hitting all five shots, and five rebounds in 21) gave the team a big boost off the bench. Frank Burlison can be reached at [email protected] or (562) 499-1320. 160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set! During six Big West Conference games in the Walter Pyramid this season, the Long Beach State 49ers are 6-0 and have outscored opponents, 90.5 to 70.2 points per game. In two conference games on the road, they’re 0-2 and have been outscored, 89.0 to 83.5. So, what gives? center_img The 49ers, atop the Big West standings, at 6-2, and 15-6 overall, can’t do much about the former. But they hope to do something about the latter, beginning tonight, when they take on Cal Poly in a 7 o’clock game in the Mustangs’ Mott Gymnasium. “We’re going to have to step it up, that’s for sure,” senior guard Kevin Houston conceded. “We know teams are going to get after us hard, in their houses, so we have to be more intense right from the beginning.” The 49ers found themselves in big first-half holes – with, of course the host Cal State Northridge Matadors and UC Irvine Anteaters doing a lot of the digging – while falling behind by 17 and 25 points, respectively, before rallying to nearly pull the games out. last_img