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Long Beach State seniors pass along some lessons about success

COLLEGE BASKETBALL

Casper Ware, Larry Anderson, Eugene Phelps and T.J. Robinson will finish their careers with the 49ers in the NCAA tournament. Freshman guard Mike Caffey has learned from each of them.

March 13, 2012|By Chris Foster
  • Long Beach State guard Casper Ware celebrates the 49ers' victory over UC Santa Barbara in the Big West tournament championship game on Saturday.
Long Beach State guard Casper Ware celebrates the 49ers' victory… (Alex Gallardo / Associated…)

Long Beach State freshman guard Mike Caffey knows his place: the bed nearest the door.

The 49ers are in Portland, Ore., for their NCAA tournament opener Thursday against New Mexico, so Caffey gets another chance to room with senior guard Casper Ware.

And Ware gets another chance to play Yoda in basketball sneakers.

"I make him sleep in the bed closest to the door," Ware said. "If someone knocks, he's the one who has to get up."

Eventually, Ware will pass the torch to Caffey, who will take over as Long Beach's court general next season. For now, he occasionally tosses him the TV remote.

"But he tells me what channel he wants to watch," Caffey said.

Caffey, who played at Corona Centennial High, is a newbie on a team dominated by a seniors who have fulfilled their goal of reaching the tournament.

Ware, Larry Anderson, Eugene Phelps and T.J. Robinson were Dan Monson's first recruits to Long Beach when he took over as coach.

All have topped 1,000 points in their careers and have redefined "senioritis" for Caffey, who has absorbed the lessons.

If the shoes fits

Caffey and Anderson were up early one day last fall. A new Nike shoe brand was going on sale. The store opened at 11 a.m. They got there by 5:30 a.m.

"We watch games and we talk about the shoes everyone is wearing," Anderson said. "We'll talk shoes and clothes and hats all day."

But more than just style points are passed along.

In the starting lineup last week, Caffey replaced Anderson, who missed the Big West Conference tournament because of a sprained knee.

"We were on the bus to the arena and Larry was telling me, 'Don't try to be Larry Anderson, be Mike Caffey,'" Caffey recalled. "He leads even when he's hurt."

Anderson, a 6-foot-5 guard, came to Long Beach State from nearby Long Beach Jordan High, but he also spent a year at Winchendon Prep in Massachusetts.

He first considered playing for Xavier, but said, "They told me they get snow for six months. That's way too long for snow."

Anderson, the Big West defensive player of the year, returned to the warm weather and has been a ray of sunshine as the 49ers' team captain the last three years.

"He is always talking in the locker room before the game and is really vocal on the court," Caffey said. "You get leadership from him."

Playboy after dunk

Caffey can't help but admire Phelps.

"The ladies love him," Caffey said, smiling. "They seem attached to him. I like to hang out with him."

Playing with him isn't so bad either.

The 6-7 Phelps was Exhibit A in Monson's recruiting strategy his first year at Long Beach.

"We weren't going to beat out a Pac-12 school for kids," Monson said. "I was new and we had six wins. We wanted guys who were good athletes that we could develop into good basketball players."

Phelps, who played at Los Angeles Fairfax High, is an attention-grabber with power dunks — which are often followed by did-you-see-what-I-just-did antics.

His two-handed dunk against UC Davis last week was followed by a Bruce Lee-like kick. During another game, his two-handed slam on a breakaway against Santa Barbara was accented by a salute to the crowd.

"He has taught me to prepare, then let your emotions explode out on the court," Caffey said. "That last game, when he saluted, that pumped everyone up."

T.J. Max

Caffey said Robinson, a 6-8 forward, is quiet. Too quiet.

"He always looks asleep," Caffey said.

That is until the game begins. Then Robinson sets up shop. All he does is rebound, defend and score — he had 31 points in a five-point loss at North Carolina last season.

"I have never seen anything bother him," Caffey said.

Robinson was a bonus discovered by Long Beach assistant Rod Palmer during an East Coast recruiting trip to see Anderson play. West Haven (Conn.) Kolbe Catholic happened to be Winchendon Prep's opponent and Palmer couldn't help but notice the young man playing center.

"T.J. and I talked a lot after that," Anderson said.

Robinson gives the 49ers an inside player who is the polar opposite of Phelps. He wrote the how-to manual on poise.

"He always tells me, 'Don't let bad things get to you,'" Caffey said. "Then he shows us how. It settles me down on the court."

Ware and terror

"Casp is goofy," Caffey said of his road-trip roommate.

After Caffey missed a couple shots late in one game, Ware sidled up to him, smiled, and broke the tension by saying, "Geez freshman, make a shot."

Ware didn't have a senior point guard to guide him as a freshman. In fact, Long Beach didn't have any point guards other than the 5-10 Ware, who had never played the position at Cerritos Gahr High, where he was the third-tallest player on the team.

Ware evolved into the Big West player of the year — twice. Outside the conference, his 29-point performance in a six-point loss at North Carolina this season had Tar Heels Coach Roy Williams gushing.

"He was like the friendly ghost," Williams said. "He went wherever he wanted to go."

Ware is the face of the team. He is matter-of-fact in interviews, "a clown," Caffey said, with teammates, and relentlessly driven in games.

"He never takes a moment off," Caffey said. "Never. Whether it is putting the team on his shoulders or leading cheers on the bench. He taught me to go hard."

Among other things.

"It's going to be his team next year and he is going to have to control it," Ware said of Caffey. "He's the second-best point guard in the Big West Conference right now."

And second best in his hotel room.

chris.foster@latimes.com

twitter.com/cfosterlatimes

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