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COLLEGE BASKETBALL / 2000-2001 PREVIEW

Highlanders Finally Land Their Shot at the Big Time

UC Riverside: First season in Division I has school excited about taking its talents to the next level.

November 16, 2000|PAUL McLEOD | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Former Playa del Rey St. Bernard High guard Reggie Howard heard the rumor 15 years ago as he was about to sign with UC Riverside.

"Coaches told me when they came to my home visit that they were going to move up to Division I," Howard, now a Riverside assistant, said. "But we didn't do it while I was playing. I never figured out why."

It has taken the perennial Division II stalwart more time than most thought, yet this fall Riverside's 15 sports teams finally stepped up to Division I competition with high hopes.

Nowhere is that more evident than in men's basketball, where an ambitious schedule includes games at Oregon State, Stanford and San Jose State, as well as home-and-home series with most of the Big West Conference schools. Riverside will become a full-fledged member of the Big West in 2001-2002 once the mountain of NCAA paperwork is completed.

For people such as Riverside Coach John Masi, getting to this point has been a long time coming. Now it's time to prove that it was worth the effort.

Masi, a solid coach with Inland Empire roots, has been at Riverside for 20 years. His 420-180 overall record includes 11 Division II postseason appearances and a sprinkling of victories over Division I teams. But what happened in the past won't mean much when the Highlanders open at Weber State on Friday.

"This is a real challenge for me," Masi said. "I heard the same talk and listened to all the possibilities about moving up going on 13 years. Now that it's here, I've been telling people how excited I am. But it's a tremendous challenge to go from Division II to Division I, even to a mid-level Division I conference like the Big West."

The university came to the final decision in an on-again, off-again way.

According to Masi, a groundswell of support started in the mid-1980s. But the former university administration pulled back in the early 1990s when students balked at raising fees to pay for it.

The final push eventually came after the arrival of Chancellor Raymond Orbach eight years ago. An energetic man, Orbach acknowledges being a rabid sports fan who cut his teeth as a graduate student during the Pete Newell era at California, and for 29 years as a UCLA physics professor and provost.

"I love sports and I wanted to move to Division I for personal reasons," Orbach said. "I think it adds greatly to the quality of an academic institution. I'm not talking about having winning teams, although I expect we'll have them. I'm talking about the kinds of leadership and camaraderie that this level of intercollegiate athletics generates."

Two years ago, with the chancellor's office leading the campaign, students voted to pay $35 a quarter to fund the move. Orbach hired well-traveled former USC basketball coach Stan Morrison, whom Orbach admired as a player at California, to be athletic director. Then the chancellor announced an ambitious plan to add four new sports and move Riverside into the Big West. The 6-year-old, 3,500-seat campus recreation center will house basketball and Orbach said that in time he expects the place to sell out game after game.

Is that wishful thinking? Orbach doesn't think so. Discussions with developers are underway for a 12,000-seat on-campus arena. It could be completed in about five years.

Meanwhile, Morrison said that Masi has positioned the Highlanders to be competitive in a year or two. The roster includes five freshmen and six sophomores and Masi said that he is banking on the fact that those players will be seasoned enough to get the job done in a year.

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

UC Riverside / Highlanders at a Glance

Date: Opponent, Time

Friday: at Weber State, 6

Saturday: at Wyoming, 6

Tuesday: SAN JOSE STATE, 8

Nov. 25: CAL STATE FULLERTON, 7

Nov. 29: at Stanford, 7:30

Dec. 5: WEBER STATE, 7

Dec. 9: at Oregon State, 7

Dec. 17: at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, 7

Dec. 20: UTAH STATE, 7

Dec. 23: UC IRVINE, 7

Dec. 27: UC SANTA BARBARA, 7

Dec. 30: at San Jose State, 7:30

Jan. 2: PORTLAND, 7

Jan. 3: BERRY COLLEGE, 7

Jan. 6: SAINT MARY'S, 7

Jan. 13: CAL POLY SAN LUIS OBISPO, 7

Jan. 16: at Utah State, 6

Jan. 19: at Sacramento State, 7

Jan. 24: LONG BEACH STATE, 7

Jan. 27: SOUTHERN UTAH, 7

Feb. 17: at UC Santa Barbara, 7

Feb. 19: at Saint Mary's, 7

Feb. 24: at UC Irvine, 7

Feb. 28: at Long Beach State, 7:30

March 3: at Cal State Fullerton, 7

Home games in CAPS; all times Pacific

ROSTER

*--*

No. Player P Ht Wt Yr 11 Preston Norman F 6-4 205 Fr.

*--*

Swingman was a high school center.

*

*--*

No. Player P Ht Wt Yr 12 Kevin Butler G 6-2 180 Fr.

*--*

Backup can play both guard spots.

*

*--*

No. Player P Ht Wt Yr 20 Trenell Eddings G 5-10 165 So.

*--*

Favorite to start at point guard.

*

*--*

No. Player P Ht Wt Yr 21 Ted Bell G 6-3 195 Fr.

*--*

Strong outside shooter.

*

*--*

No. Player P Ht Wt Yr 22 Steve Clayton F 6-8 215 Sr.

*--*

Reminds some of Kurt Rambis.

*

*--*

No. Player P Ht Wt Yr 23 Jason LaBagh F 6-5 190 Sr.

*--*

Experienced guard should start.

*

*--*

No. Player P Ht Wt Yr 30 Zack Elder G 6-2 205 So.

*--*

First player off the bench.

*

*--*

No. Player P Ht Wt Yr 32 Aaron Hands F 6-7 215 So.

*--*

Consistent, athletic forward.

*

*--*

No. Player P Ht Wt Yr 33 Mark Vanta F 6-5 205 Sr.

*--*

Hard-working veteran bench player.

*

*--*

No. Player P Ht Wt Yr 34 Mark Miller F 6-6 215 So.

*--*

Last season's scoring leader.

*

*--*

No. Player P Ht Wt Yr 35 Lloyd Cook F 6-6 200 Jr.

*--*

Fresno State transfer.

*

*--*

No. Player P Ht Wt Yr 42 Jake Dededer F 6-10 215 So.

*--*

Has grown 5 1/2 inches in two years.

*

*--*

No. Player P Ht Wt Yr 44 Vili Morton G 6-8 225 Fr.

*--*

May start at center later in season.

*

*--*

No. Player P Ht Wt Yr 45 Jason Perkins G 6-3 190 Jr.

*--*

Hard-working former walk-on.

*

*--*

No. Player P Ht Wt Yr 50 Mike Zepeda C 6-9 240 So.

*--*

Could earn occasional start at center.

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