NORTHRIDGE — Three years ago, Pete Cassidy was stung by criticism from area high school basketball coaches who complained that Cal State Northridge did a poor job recruiting players from its own back yard.
Today, the first day of the NCAA-sanctioned early-signing period, Cassidy will sign two high school seniors from area schools.
Trenton Cross, a guard from Reseda High, and Paul Brandt, a center from Thousand Oaks, verbally committed to Northridge in the past week.
"We really needed a big man and a freshman point guard," said Cassidy, who is set to begin his 23rd season as coach of the Matadors. "To get those in the early-signing period certainly is a first."
There is hope among Northridge coaches that it might also mark the start of a trend.
After three seasons of growing pains, it appears that the Matadors' basketball program might be hitting stride and the signings of Cross and Brandt are one indication.
Since its first campaign at the NCAA Division I level in 1990-91, Northridge has been playing better basketball against an increasingly tougher schedule each season.
As a result, the Matadors are becoming a more attractive alternative for talented area basketball players wishing to continue their careers at a school close to home.
Brandt, for example, said he felt "at home" at Northridge because on his recruiting visit he renewed acquaintances with several Thousand Oaks High graduates. Some are full-time students. Others are members of the Matador women's volleyball team.
Yet, despite those familiar surroundings, Cassidy predicts players such as Brandt and Cross would look elsewhere if the bottom-line figures weren't comparable with that of the competition.
"We are in a position now where we can award a full scholarship, and who wouldn't be interested in that?" Cassidy said. "I think people recognize we're becoming more and more competitive. We're growing and we're moving. That becomes attractive to youngsters."
Northridge has 14 players on its roster, 12 on full scholarships. Cassidy said before the university's move to the top level of NCAA competition, he "never gave a full scholarship to anybody, ever. Not even our best players."
That is why Cassidy believed most of the criticism by area high school coaches was unjustified.
"So many of your top players in the Valley aspired to go to Division I schools," he said. "It's not that we didn't recruit them or write them or go to see them. The recruiting process is a two-way street. A lot of times our letters and phone calls were not returned."
As for other borderline players who were touted by their high school coaches as prospects, Cassidy asked, "Who \o7 did \f7 recruit them? That would be my question."
Jeff Halpern, Cross' coach at Reseda, was among those who criticized Northridge's recruiting efforts.
On Tuesday, however, Halpern said, "They did a real good job with Trenton. I hope that continues. I hope it's a sign they've turned the corner."
Cassidy discounted some of his detractors but took the criticism of others to heart.
"There were programs out there who felt we might not be paying much attention to them or doing a very good job letting them know we knew they were around," Cassidy said. "That criticism came in loud and clear. I appreciate the comments of some of those coaches.
"What I felt was fair I acted on and will continue to act on. When criticism comes my way, I'd be a fool not to weigh it and pay attention."
Ed Chevalier, Brandt's coach at Thousand Oaks, said Cassidy and other members of the Matador coaching staff have been in close contact with several Lancer players in the past five years.
None before Brandt signed with Northridge, but Chevalier said the lines of communication were open.
"I think Pete has always run more of a local program than a national program," Chevalier said. "Pete graduates his players, you never hear anything funny going on with that program, and the players play hard. What more do you want?"
Area Seniors Committed to Division I Schools
Player Position High School College Choice Paul Brandt Center Thousand Oaks Cal State Northridge Trenton Cross Guard Reseda Cal State Northridge Pharoah Davis Forward Highland San Diego State Jason Hartman Forward Thousand Oaks Washington Alex Lopez Center Campbell Hall Washington Summer Peterson Center Rio Mesa UNLV Archie Williams Guard Reseda Texas El Paso
Player Position High School College Choice Rich Igou Pitcher Notre Dame San Francisco Bryan LaCour Infielder Chatsworth Stanford Justin Martin Outfielder El Camino Real Nevada Bill Scheffels Pitcher Simi Valley UNLV Randy Wolf Pitcher El Camino Real Pepperdine Brad Wright Infielder Crespi Cal
Player Position High School College Choice Carrie Breedlove Pitcher Bell-Jeff Arizona State Sara Griffin Pitcher Simi Valley Michigan Jessica Shapiro Pitcher Granada Hills Arizona State