There are so many things a team can do to try to improve on the previous season. It can practice harder and longer. It can change offenses, put in new types of defensive pressure. It can add new players, or simply make the old ones better.
Or, of course, it can get flu shots, which is precisely what Cal State Fullerton Coach George McQuarn has required his team to do.
Last season was an experience that McQuarn calls "unique" and "strange," even "bizarre."
After they lost their season opener against Texas Tech by one point, the Titans won seven straight games and earned a top-20 ranking before they lost to UCLA by one point in Pauley Pavilion.
Then, in January, the team was hit with the flu and dropped six straight Pacific Coast Athletic Assn. games, taking itself out of contention in the race for second place behind perennial champion Nevada Las Vegas. McQuarn, who developed pneumonia, missed the Titans' home game against UC Irvine, another of the losses.
The Titans finished 17-13, including a first-round loss in the National Invitation Tournament, and did no better than a three-way tie for fourth place in the PCAA.
The flu, at least, is one malady Fullerton figures to avoid this year.
"We never had anything like that happen in the past," said McQuarn, who is taking his share of vitamins. "I'm very reactionary when it comes to that."
That out of the way, Fullerton has its two leading scorers back, guard Richard Morton and small forward Henry Turner, plus a veteran point guard, Eugene Jackson. Beyond that, the Titans are fairly inexperienced--so inexperienced, in fact, that two players who did not play at all last year may start at center and power forward.
Although McQuarn has some high hopes for the new big men, the Titans will have to rely on Morton and Turner, especially early in the season.
Morton, a 6-foot 4-inch senior guard, averaged 18.4 points last season and scored a career-high 35 in the final game of the season.
"I think I need Morton to be more consistent than he was last year," McQuarn said. "At the end of the year, he averaged 18.4, but he was up and down."
Turner, a 6-7 senior forward, averaged 15 points and 6 rebounds a game. In the Titans' recent Blue-Orange intrasquad game, he led all scorers with 35 points.
"Henry's game is just improving in every area," McQuarn said.
Morton and Turner lead a team that not only was voted a likely third-place PCAA finisher by conference coaches, but also received two first-place votes.
It is a year in which UNLV, for once, looks vulnerable, and Fullerton, along with second-place pick San Jose State, is considered a potential challenger.
In addition to Morton and Turner, one other returning player is a near-certain starter: Jackson, a senior point guard who was a part-time starter last season and who headed off challenges from Tyrone Ree and Marlon Vaughn in the preseason, according to McQuarn.
Beyond that, McQuarn is faced with a choice between potential and experience.
Bobby Adair, a 6-8 junior forward who was a Titan redshirt last season after transferring from Utah, may start at power forward. If McQuarn chooses to favor experience over youth and potential, he may instead start Vincent Blow, a 6-8 senior who averaged three points and four rebounds a game as a reserve last season.
At center, McQuarn appears to be leaning toward starting John Sykes, a 6-8, 235-pound sophomore who did not practice with a team last year while he attended Merced Community College after transferring from Texas. Should McQuarn favor the more experienced player at center, the starter would be Oval Miller, a 6-8 senior who averaged three points and three rebounds as a reserve last season.
In any case, four players, rather than three, are likely to share the two positions, a result of what McQuarn calls the best depth his teams have ever had at those positions.
"I'm still not sure which ones will start," McQuarn said. "There's not a big difference in the players' athletic ability. There is a big difference in experience. This early in the year, the kid with knowledge and experience knows more what to expect. But to learn, the new guys have to play, make mistakes and play through them."
One other key reserve will be Van Anderson, a 6-4 junior swingman who was a redshirt last season after transferring from Oregon State. He will back up Morton and Turner. Either Ree or Vaughn will back up Jackson at the point.
With Morton and the mobile Turner in the lineup, McQuarn has said he would like his team to run a bit more than in the past. But unless the Titans' rebounding improves, he said that may be impossible.
"We've worked on rebounding real hard, but we're not doing it yet," McQuarn said.
Herman Webster, who was the center last year, led that team with 6.3 rebounds a game. McQuarn has yet to find someone to pick up that load.
"I don't want Turner to lead this team in rebounding," said McQuarn, who wants Turner to be a key player on the fast break. "If he does, we've got problems."