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COLLEGE BASKETBALL 1996-97 | LONG BEACH STATE

Morgan, 49ers Are Ready for the Front

November 21, 1996|JASON REID | TIMES STAFF WRITER

A career second banana, Wayne Morgan stepped to the forefront in April because Long Beach State had an opening and he made the best pitch.

Twenty years of the worst recruiting trips, longest hours and least recognition all ended for Morgan when Long Beach State named him its 14th head coach. Then in less than a three-week span after practice began, Morgan lost his best player because of a broken rib, suspended another key player for attacking a teammate during practice, and watched his team lose to something called Upstate Developmental Basketball League All-Stars in his first exhibition game.

So much for the honeymoon.

"I've had some things to deal with, but that's what you do when you're a head coach," said Morgan, previously an assistant at Syracuse. "I think I've adjusted to what we have here and I understand what we have. We have talent and we can have a good team."

You won't find an argument at the newsstands. The 49ers are the consensus pick of the preseason magazines to win the Western Division title in the Big West Conference, and they also headed the list in a poll of reporters covering the conference.

"One of the first things I ever learned as a basketball coach is to always lower expectations," Morgan said. "I don't make predictions. However, other people have observed [the 49ers' talent].

"I haven't coached in a [regular-season] game yet and they think the ingredients are here to possibly finish first in the division. That's a testament to the job Seth [Greenberg] did."

Greenberg restored the 49ers to respectability before going for bigger bucks at South Florida after last season. During his six-year tenure as coach, Greenberg twice led the 49ers to the NCAA tournament and once to the National Invitation Tournament.

Last season, Long Beach State won a regular-season title for the first time since 1977. Morgan knows what the standard is, and Greenberg left him in good shape for continued success.

Standout guard James Cotton led the Big West in scoring last season, averaging 19.5 points. Cotton, a first-team all-conference selection, suffered a rib injury landing on a teammate's foot in practice Oct. 27 and only recently resumed practicing. He said he would be ready for the season opener Monday against Wyoming.

Power forward Akeli Jackson is among the conference's top athletes at his position. Jackson averaged 10.9 points and a team-leading 7.5 rebounds last season.

Point guard Tommie Davis transferred from Houston, where he played well as a freshman. Center Ike Nwankwo transferred from UCLA and, if nothing else at 6 feet 11 and 250, should at least be an imposing presence in the middle--something Long Beach State didn't have last season.

Nwankwo, though, won't be eligible until Dec. 20, meaning burly forward Brian Yankelevitz will play out of position again. Yankelevitz, a co-captain, doesn't have the height (6-8) or quickness to defend effectively in the post, a problem made more acute by the suspension of forward Marcus Johnson.

Johnson was suspended indefinitely Nov. 4 for injuring teammate Corey Saffold during an unprovoked attack, school officials said. Morgan said Johnson is the team's best post player.

Without Johnson, more will be needed from forwards D'Cean Bryant and Greg Clark, a highly regarded freshman. Likewise for guards Quincy Nuckles and Brandon Titus.

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

Long Beach State Facts and Figures

ROSTER

*--*

No. Player Pos. Ht. Wt. Yr. 3 Akeli Jackson F 6-8 220 Jr

*--*

Comment: Led 49ers in rebounding with 7.5 average.

*

*--*

No. Player Pos. Ht. Wt. Yr. 5 Quincy Nuckles G 6-3 200 Jr

*--*

Comment: Good shooter from field (56%), line (89%).

*

*--*

No. Player Pos. Ht. Wt. Yr. 15 Marcus Johnson F 6-9 210 Jr

*--*

Comment: Shot-block leader with 25; currently suspended.

*

*--*

No. Player Pos. Ht. Wt. Yr. 20 Greg Clark F 6-7 210 Fr

*--*

Comment: Highest-regarded Long Beach recruit in 20 years.

*

*--*

No. Player Pos. Ht. Wt. Yr. 22 Brandon Titus G 6-4 190 Sr

*--*

Comment: Reserve averaged 2.4 points.

*

*--*

No. Player Pos. Ht. Wt. Yr. 33 Corey Saffold F 6-7 200 Jr

*--*

Comment: Transferred from Oklahoma; played in five games.

*

*--*

No. Player Pos. Ht. Wt. Yr. 35 Ike Nwankwo C 6-11 250 Sr

*--*

Comment: Member of 1995 national champion UCLA.

*

*--*

No. Player Pos. Ht. Wt. Yr. 44 James Cotton G 6-5 215 Jr

*--*

Comment: Big West's leading scorer at 19.5 points a game.

*

*--*

No. Player Pos. Ht. Wt. Yr. 45 D'Cean Bryant G/F 6-6 215 So

*--*

Comment: Ineligible as a freshman under NCAA rules .

*

*--*

No. Player Pos. Ht. Wt. Yr. 53 Brian Yankelevitz C 6-8 245 Sr

*--*

Comment: Long Beach co-captain and inspirational leader.

*

*--*

No. Player Pos. Ht. Wt. Yr. 55 Tommie Davis G 5-9 170 So

*--*

Comment: Crenshaw High standout; nicknamed "Tank."

* Coach: Wayne Morgan, first season at school,

0-0, no NCAA appearances.

* 1995-96 record: 17-11 overall, 12-6 (first in Big West).

* Tournament: Lost to Utah, 76-64, in first round of 1995 NCAA West Regional at Boise, Idaho.

* Returning starters (3): Cotton, Jackson, Yankelevitz.

SCHEDULE

*--*

Date Opponent Time Monday Wyoming 7:30 Nov. 30 at USC 1 Dec. 3 Oregon State 7:30 Dec. 6 Mercer in Boilermaker Invitational 6 Dec. 7 Purdue or Cornell at Boilermaker Inv. 3 or 5 Dec. 10 at George Mason 4:30 Dec. 21 at Montana 6:30 Dec. 30 Bethune Cookman 7:30 Jan. 4 at St. Mary's 3 Jan. 6 Boise State 7:30 Jan. 9 Southwest Missouri State 9 Jan. 11 at UC Irvine 7 Jan. 13 at Cal State Fullerton 7 Jan. 18 at Pacific 7 Jan. 23 UC Santa Barbara 7:30 Jan. 25 Cal Poly San Luis Obispo 7:30 Jan. 30 at New Mexico State 6 Feb. 2 at North Texas 10:30 a.m. Feb. 6 Nevada 9 Feb. 8 Utah State 7:30 Feb. 13 at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo 7 Feb. 15 at UC Santa Barbara 7:30 Feb. 20 UC Irvine 9 Feb. 22 Cal State Fullerton 7:30 Feb. 27 at Idaho 7 March 1 Pacific 5 March 7 Big West tournament TBA

*--*

* All times Pacific and p.m. unless noted.

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