For the Chapman College Panthers, last season meant one large step toward respectability, especially after a 2-12 finish in the California Collegiate Athletic Assn. in 1985-86.
Actually, the Panthers achieved more than respectability as they nearly upset conference co-champion Cal State Dominguez Hills, losing 68-65, in the CCAA tournament last winter in San Luis Obispo. Chapman finished 15-14 overall, including an 8-6 conference record.
So now, Chapman (9-4) seems poised to take that next step--winning a conference title--as it opens CCAA play tonight at Hutton Sports Center in Orange. And the first step toward that goal comes, appropriately enough, against the team that ended the Panthers' season last year, Cal State Dominguez Hills (6-6).
The major reason for Chapman's success thus far lies with Kelly Huston. There is little question that Huston has handled his role as the significant--and sometimes, only--part of Chapman's offense. Last week, he scored 55 points in two games, helping the Panthers to their third and fourth straight victories. Huston is averaging 23.4 points and 9.3 rebounds.
Conversely, one of the question marks for the Panthers concerns the play of sophomore guard Dave Roth. Roth, who had a slow nonconference season as a freshman, picked up the level of his play once the CCAA began.
This season, Chapman Coach Kevin Wilson hopes the same will happen again. In 13 games, Roth is averaging 12.5 points and 3.4 rebounds. His numbers, obviously, aren't bad, but in order for Chapman to contend for a conference title, the Panthers need a consistent effort from Roth.
"We're going to need him to score 15 to 20 points a game," Huston said. "It would put a lot less pressure on me inside. He's just in a bad slump. Dave appears confident, but I'm sure, inside, he's wondering what's happening. . . . I have a lot of confidence in Dave. Once he gets going, we'll really be tough.
Said Wilson: "Dave came in the other day and watched some tapes when he was a starter last year. Then he said, 'Geez, I worked a lot harder last year.'
"And, in the last five days he's been working really hard in practice. We need him to play well for us to win the league. He was our leading scorer in the conference and had big games against Riverside, SLO (Cal Poly San Luis Obispo), and Bakersfield."
Again, like last season, those three--along with Cal State Northridge--are expected to be among the conference leaders. Riverside was breezing through its nonconference season without a loss until it recently dropped two games against Division I opponents.
Chapman, too, is considered to be in the upper echelon. One poll has picked the Panthers to finish third. But Wilson doesn't put too much credibility into the preseason rankings, most likely, remembering that his team was chosen to finish last in last season's poll.
Expected starters for Cal State Dominguez Hills are 6-2 senior forward Barry Johnson, who is averaging 5.1 points and 1.8 rebounds, 6-6 senior forward Roger Coleman (6.6, 3.5), 6-7 junior center Anthony Blackmon (16.7, 7.2), 6-1 junior guard Derrick Clark (9.1, 3.7) and 6-0 freshman guard Bryan Dell'Amico (10.8, 1.7). Freshman Desi Hazely, who played for Ocean View High School last season, started the first seven games for the Toros, but, lately he has been the first forward off the bench.