A big year could be ahead for Fresno State and coach Rodney Terry, his fifth season, as he works a steady build with a men’s basketball program that lacked upward mobility when he arrived.
The roster is deeper, with a veteran backcourt in seniors Marvelle Harris, Cezar Guerrero and Julien Lewis; Harris is the Preseason Player of the Year in the Mountain West. The Bulldogs have legitimate length with the addition of the 6-foot-9 Torren Jones, who started his college career at Missouri, and the 6-foot-9 Cullen Russo. There are a lot of positives with Paul Watson moving out to play more at small forward, with Karachi Edo and Terrell Carter back. They are healthy at the start of the season, which a year ago they most definitely were not.
“This team,” Terry said, “has a very high ceiling.”
Fresno State has improved its conference win total in each of the past three seasons since coach Rodney Terry arrived in 2011.
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And they have treated it as such. The Bulldogs took a summer trip to Italy, to help build team chemistry and get in 10 extra practices allowed by the NCAA. They have been working with a sports psychologist and have, for the first time in years, been able to set up a favorable home-heavy schedule.
But on Friday, they will get a very good idea how close or how far they are from reaching that potential, opening the season with a nonconference game against Pepperdine at Save Mart Center.
Last season, in Game One, the Waves bullied and beat up the Bulldogs – and Pepperdine returns just about everything from that team, including two-time all-conference forward Stacy Davis.
The Waves return a total of 97 percent of their scoring from a team that won 18 games, and in that game last season never gave the Bulldogs a chance. The Waves outworked Fresno State, hitting 15 of their first 19 shots, including 11 in a row at one point.
Davis, who led Pepperdine with 22 points and had nine rebounds and four assists, started that run with a jumper and it was followed by another jump shot, a dunk, a layup, a jumper and a 3-pointer. The Waves led by 15 points in the first half, by 17 in the second and settled for an 89-74 victory that wasn’t really that close.
“That’s a team that has a chance to be a NCAA Tournament team,” Terry said.
4 Number of returning Bulldogs players who averaged double-figure scoring last season: Marvelle Harris (16.8 ppg), Julien Lewis (11.4 ppg), Cezar Guerrero (11.4 ppg) and Paul Watson (11.0 ppg)
Lewis, who came off the bench to score 19 points for Fresno State in that game, believes the Bulldogs, with the work put in and competition in practice, are in a much stronger place entering this season.
“We’re solid, a lot more solid than last year,” Lewis said. “We have a lot more bodies, a lot more guys that can play. We have 10 guys that can play – that’s a lot better. (If) we compete hard, work hard, then everything is possible. I think last year we competed hard, but we just didn’t have the wheels to go out there and do it every single day like we do now.”
Fresno State is about to find out, opening a season that holds as much promise as any going back many years. The Bulldogs haven’t been ranked in the Associated Press Top 25 since the 2001-02 season, haven’t made a NCAA Tournament appearance since the 2000-01 season.
They will get an idea where they are from Pepperdine at both ends of the floor and then go from there with a group that is deeper and more talented than Terry has had to work with, the program going from a seventh-place finish in the Western Athletic Conference in his first season to a dark horse contender in the much more challenging Mountain West this season.
It’s a great test for us and we have to go out and play at a high level.
Bulldogs coach Rodney Terry
“They’re going to be good,” Terry said of the Waves. “You’re not going to shut this team down. They’re a good, older team. They have seniors over there that have played and are good players. It’s a great test for us and we have to go out and play at a high level. We have to just compete and control our effort and preparation against a quality team. That’s what you want. You want to be challenged early and hopefully find out where you are and continue to build on the areas you need to build on. …
“You have to get out there and figure it out. You may think a certain way, but you won’t really know until you get out there and start mixing it up.”
Robert Kuwada: @rkuwada
FRESNO STATE VS. PEPPERDINE
- Friday: 7 p.m. at Save Mart Center
- Radio: KFIG (AM 940), KGST (AM 1600)
- Series: Pepperdine leads 15-13 overall; Fresno State leads 7-6 in games played in Fresno
- Last meeting: Pepperdine 89, Fresno State 74 (Nov. 14, 2014, in Malibu)
- Of note: Fresno State is 4-0 in home openers and 2-2 in season openers during head coach Rodney Terry’s first four seasons. ... The Bulldogs were picked to finish fifth and senior guard Marvelle Harris was named Preseason Player of the Year in the Mountain West by the league’s media.
Fresno State roster
Hometown (last school)
Las Vegas, Nev. (Trinity International High)
Inglewood (Brentwood High)
Terrell Carter II
Redondo Beach (Redondo Union High)
Dallas, Texas (Berkner High)
Lionel Ellison III
New Orleans, La. (Coffeyville CC)
Las Vegas, Nev. (Quality Education Academy)
Huntington Park (Oklahoma State)
Rialto (Eisenhower High)
Mesa, Ariz. (Colorado)
Chandler, Ariz. (Midland College)
Galveston, Texas (Texas)
Bloomington, Minn. (New Mexico JC)
Burlington, Kan. (Burlington High)
Los Angeles (UMKC)
Los Angeles (Washington)
Phoenix, Ariz. (Paradise Valley High)