NORTHRIDGE — Cal State Northridge's basketball opener is a month away, but competition began in earnest Saturday.
Coach Bobby Braswell believes his team's strength is its depth, and players reacted to the first day of practice as if they'd just heard the dinner bell on a ranch:
Go hard or go hungry.
Rico Harris, a 6-foot-9 junior transfer from L.A. City College who chose Northridge over Rhode Island, is the most high-profile addition, but several newcomers will challenge five returning players who started at least part of the time on last season's 12-16 team.
"That's the fun thing about this," Braswell said. "We are at least two deep in each position. We've never had that before."
Derrick Higgins, a 6-3 senior guard who was granted a medical redshirt after suffering a foot fracture five games into last season, is the team leader. Higgins averaged 11.6 points and set a Northridge record with 74 steals during the 1996-97 season.
Other returners include sophomore guard Carl Holmes, who was Big Sky Conference freshman of the year after averaging 11.0 points, junior three-point specialist Greg Minor (12.2 points), junior forward Jeff Parris (7.6 points, 5.1 rebounds) and sophomore center Brian Heinle (6.9 points, 4.8 rebounds).
Four other players practiced with the team last season but were either ineligible or redshirted. Markus Carr, a redshirt freshman coming off a knee injury, and Jason Crowe, a junior ineligible last season because he transferred from American University, will share time at point guard.
Andre Larry, a 6-9 transfer from Oregon, and sophomore forward Jermar Welch, who redshirted, also spent last year at Northridge but did not play. Much is expected of Larry, who dominated at times in practice last season.
"We have a lot of new guys, but many are new guys who practiced with us for a full year," Braswell said. "They know me and they know the system."
Two junior college transfers from Texas also figure in at forward: Hewitt Rolle, (6-7, 230-pound) and Larry Beard (6-9, 225).
Dan Read, a 6-10 freshman center from Eugene, Ore., probably will redshirt, Braswell said.