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MARCH MADNESS / NCAA TOURNAMENT

Northridge Waiting on Braswell

College basketball: After historic season, Matador coach has become even hotter commodity.

March 18, 2001|VINCE KOWALICK | TIMES STAFF WRITER

DAYTON, Ohio — Cal State Northridge's basketball future has everything to do with its past.

That is, it has everything to do with Coach Bobby Braswell.

Northridge's dream season came to an end Friday, when the Matadors lost to Kansas, 99-75, in the opening round of the Midwest Regional of the NCAA tournament.

The Matadors (22-10), for years dribbling in obscurity, surprised the masses with their unprecedented success this season, which included an upset of UCLA at Pauley Pavilion and their first NCAA tournament appearance.

Now, Northridge followers are wondering if the Matadors will ever pass this way again.

Or if Braswell will be back.

Braswell, 38, whose stock is rapidly rising as a coach, reportedly will be pursued by other schools, perhaps Nevada Las Vegas. He conceivably could be gone before Northridge begins play next season in the Big West Conference.

Rumors of Braswell's impending departure have swirled for weeks. The subject was raised again after the loss to Kansas and it only figures to become more topical in the coming weeks.

Braswell continued to deflect questions about his future, choosing to emphasize the Matadors' outlook for next season.

"This has been a wonderful experience with these guys," Braswell said. "We have something to strive for with the guys we have coming back.

"I haven't given [job opportunities] one bit of thought. I'm head basketball coach at Cal State Northridge and I'm one of the happiest guys in the world right now."

A former assistant at Oregon and Long Beach State, Braswell took over a mediocre Northridge program in 1996 and steadily elevated it to national recognition.

Rick Pitino, former Boston Celtic and Kentucky coach, praised Braswell while providing television commentary during the game Friday.

Pitino said if he was an athletic director, Braswell would be among his top three coaching candidates in the country.

"He'd be terrific at Las Vegas," said Pitino, who recently was rumored to be taking the UNLV job but is likely to become Denny Crum's successor at Louisville.

"He's a very disciplined basketball coach, very knowledgeable about the game. He has his own unique style, a quiet toughness about him.

"He's [excelled] in a very difficult environment and he hasn't backed down in scheduling. He played UCLA, USC on the road, Oregon last year and Fresno State. He's done it at a very difficult place to get to the tournament, but he's done it playing a tough schedule and winning his league and recruiting good basketball players in a disciplined environment."

Tennessee Coach Jerry Green, rumored to be fired after the season, was coach at Oregon when Braswell was an assistant.

Green, whose team was eliminated by Charlotte in the first round Friday, said Braswell "is too good for Cal State Northridge."

Braswell made his mark recruiting for Green, a strength he developed further in building Northridge.

"He's a heck of a person and knows the L.A. area better than anybody I know of," Green said. "He does a very good job of directing and coaching. He's doing it now, not having as much ammunition as other guys have. He's going to be a big-time coach."

Braswell says he is happy at his alma mater. But he was a finalist last season at Oregon State, losing out to Ritchie McKay.

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