SAN DIEGO — If there is one thing that the Point Loma Nazarene, Christian Heritage and UC San Diego men's basketball teams have in common this season, it's that each will be putting a lot of new players on the court. Rick Hazeltine takes a look at San Diego's small college programs.
Point Loma Nazarene has only one starter returning from last year's team that finished 25-10, won its third straight National Christian College Athletic Assn. title and lost to Biola, 60-55, in the NAIA District III championship game. PLNC also finished 7-3 in the Golden State Athletic Conference, tying Southern California College for first.
"Our major concern right now is inexperienced players as far as our system is concerned," PLNC Coach Ben Foster said. "Nine of our 14 players are new to the program."
Senior forward Clayton Williams is the lone returning starter. As a junior, he averaged 14 points and a team-leading 7.5 rebounds per game.
Foster is looking to junior transfers Brian Thurston, a 6-foot 2-inch guard from Phoenix Community College, and 6-4 forward Mark Ryan, who transferred from Concordia College of Nebraska. Ryan also played at Chula Vista High School.
Foster also has brought in six freshmen, including Miguel Gutierrez, an all-state guard from Roswell, N.M., who was the Crusaders' top scorer in an exhibition game against Athletes in Action. The Crusaders also signed 6-10 center Mike Flores from Mount Miguel High School in Spring Valley.
"I think this team is going to become a very good team," Foster said. "I'm just concerned about how long it's going to take.
"Last year's team was so mature on the court and played with so much confidence that we were such a good team on the road and we did not beat ourselves."
Christian Heritage Coach Jim Huckaby has little concern after the Hawks' first season of intercollegiate basketball.
"We're probably ahead of schedule," Huckaby said. "I thought it might take three or four years to get where we are this year. I think in time, this is going to be a very strong program."
Christian Heritage, an NAIA independent, had an 8-20 record in its first season. However, seven of the opponents the Hawks beat last season are no longer on their schedule.
"We may not win more games but we're still going to be more skilled," Huckaby said.
Christian Heritage will be counting on transfer point guard Mark Kraatz to give the team leadership on the court. Kraatz, a 6-1 sophomore, transferred from Illinois State, where he averaged 3.3 assists and 2.2 points while playing 19 minutes a game.
Christian Heritage returns guards Rundy Foster, who led the team in scoring with 15 points per game, and William Cunningham, who averaged 12 points. Huckaby said he probably will move Cunningham to small forward to make room for Kraatz.
Huckaby also added some height to help Christian Heritage's inside game. Community college transfers John Burkhardt (6-10, 225) from Fullerton College and David Kirksey (6-8, 220), from Cypress College should help the Hawks' front line.
Christian Heritage's freshman recruits include Rob Meeder (6-6, 225), who played at Christian High School in El Cajon.
With the loss of three starters who averaged 56.4 points per game, UC San Diego Coach Tom Marshall will be replacing last season's perimeter game with one centered on scoring inside and playing good defense.
"I'm really happy with our size," Marshall said. "At our level, we see a lot of Division III teams that have centers 6-7, maybe 6-6. When I can start a 6-10 center and a 6-7 guard, it's pretty unusual."
The Tritons, 18-8 last season as an NCAA Division III independent, have the tallest lineup in the school's history.
Center Andy Jedynak (6-10) is the lone returning starter. Jedynak averaged 7.4 points and a team-leading 7.0 rebounds last season. Marshall also will be counting on two lettermen who appeared in nearly every game last season: sophomore guard Andy Wagstaff (6-7) and 6-4 senior forward Kevin Stewart.
Marshall also recruited five community college transfers and five freshmen. The transfers are led by Rob Rittgers, a 6-1 junior guard from Grossmont College. The top freshman recruit is 6-5 guard Paul Keenan from Westlake High School in Westlake, Calif.
Marshall said his new players received valuable playing time together on a trip to Denmark last summer.
"These guys really had an opportunity to learn each other, and we were 10 days ahead of schedule after a week of practice," Marshall said. "If we jell early, I think we can have an extremely good year."