FULLERTON — One of the big challenges for Cal State Fullerton's basketball players this season will be keeping up with speedy point guard Aaron Sunderland, the new throttle man in what Coach John Sneed hopes will be a revved-up offense.
"He has one gear-- go ," Sneed said. "He's like a dragster, there's no change of pace. Put the ball in his hands in the open court and he's just a jet. But sometimes he's going to have to wait for his teammates to catch up."
The addition of Sunderland, a junior transfer from Connors State College in Oklahoma, is one reason Sneed believes this could be his best team in four years as Titan head coach.
Another reason is the return of hot-shooting senior guard Joe Small, who will team with Sunderland to give Fullerton its best backcourt tandem since Leon Wood and Ricky Mixon tore up opponents from 1981-83.
Yet another reason is the 10-man rotation Sneed plans to use. The Titans are two deep at every position and Sneed believes there isn't a drastic drop off in talent from starters to reserves.
One indicator of Fullerton's depth is Sneed's decision to redshirt smooth-shooting wing player Dijon Bernard, a junior from Ventura College who is academically eligible but will be held out until next season. Freshman forward Ray Hooper and sophomore center Jason Kerian also will redshirt.
"We've never redshirted anyone that good," Sneed said of Bernard. "It's a positive."
The Titans aren't expected to challenge for the Big West Conference championship--conference coaches and media picked Fullerton to finish eighth at Wednesday's media day--but they appear to be improved over last season.
Fullerton should also be quicker, more relentless and entertaining than last season's 14-14 team, which was given to regular lapses on offense and defense.
"Our depth will allow us to keep pressure on people for 40 minutes and run the floor for 40 minutes," Sneed said. "I like the intensity they're playing with."
Fullerton's strength is its backcourt. Small, the former Bolsa Grande High School standout, is one of the best outside shooters on the West Coast. A second-team, all-conference selection last season, Small averaged 21.8 points and made 75 of 193 three-pointers.
"Every time he lets it go it has a chance," Sneed said. "It's a pretty shot. He's a very visible player going into the year, but I think we have enough scoring threats to take the heat off him."
Sunderland replaces three-year point guard Wayne Williams, who was academically ineligible for this season and transferred to Cal State San Bernardino. Sunderland is a solid outside shooter, a good passer and a better-than-average defender. Sneed's only concern is that he tries to do too much.
"We need to give him a transmission so he can change gears and slow down," Sneed said. "It's not a big problem, but sometimes he wants to take it all the way on the break. He's now learning to read lanes and split defenses."
Sunderland's backup will be junior Brian Wood, a transfer from San Jose City College. Sophomore Greg Vernon, who has improved his outside shot, will fill in at point and shooting guard.
The small-forward position will again be manned by junior Bruce Bowen and senior J.D. Green, who combined to average 16.9 points and 10.1 rebounds in 1990-91. Both are versatile players who can score from inside and outside.
Senior Agee Ward, who averaged 12.6 points and 8.1 rebounds last season, is back at power forward, and Sneed says he'll be more of a scoring threat this season.
"The players have such confidence in Agee they're now looking to him inside," Sneed said. "He can convert around the basket. He's in the best shape he's ever been in."
It will be difficult to replace the clutch-scoring abilities and leadership qualities of center Aaron Wilhite, who transferred to North Carolina Charlotte last spring. But the Titans will be quicker with center Kim Kemp, a 6-8 transfer from San Jose City.
Kemp will share the position with Sean Williams, a 6-10 transfer from Connors State College who is more of a threat on defense than on offense.
"They give you different looks," Sneed said. "Sean is a Manute Bol-type player. He's unorthodox, lanky, but his play grows on you. Kim is a good athlete who can run the floor with anyone. Neither is a real power player."
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