Fresno State men’s basketball coach Rodney Terry stopped practice not once but twice Thursday to yell at his senior point guard.
Cezar Guerrero crossed halfcourt and passed to teammate Paul Watson in the forecourt – exactly where Terry didn’t want the ball going.
“Twice!” Terry exclaimed later. “What’s (Watson) going to do with it right there? A good point guard doesn’t do that. (Guerrero) hates it when I say that: ‘A good point guard doesn’t do that!’ But he’s taking it the right way.”
Guerrero is, in fact, taking it the right way. He doesn’t mope, and when practice concludes, he and Terry exchange smiles and a fist bump.
“He doesn’t just get on me – he gets on Marvelle (Harris) as well and everybody else,” Guerrero said. “I need to take that, to take the criticism. Because where we want to get to this year, we can’t get there if I’m not an extension of his voice.”
The Bulldogs just concluded their first week of practice leading up to the Nov. 13 season opener against Pepperdine at Save Mart Center. Even though many of the names and faces remain the same, there’s a different look about them.
Harris is 8 pounds heavier. Judging by the way he flexed in front of me – grinning while he did it – most of it went to his arms and shoulders. By contrast, Guerrero is noticeably slimmer. He seemed pleased about that, too.
The starting guards, with Harris a leading Mountain West Conference Player of the Year candidate, are primed for big senior years.
Watson remains as long and thin as ever. At least now he’ll be playing his natural position: small forward. Karachi Edo’s shoulders would stand out in a giant sequoia grove. This season, however, Edo will have company inside the paint with 6-foot-9 transfer Torren Jones and the massive form of Terrell Carter, who looks ready to contribute as a sophomore.
Add projected sixth man Julien Lewis plus a few other intriguing transfers and freshmen, and you’ve got easily the most veteran and talented roster of Terry’s five-year tenure.
“Not only is there a lot of talent on this team, it’s an older team with a lot of talented players,” Harris said. “That’s a good combination. Talent takes you a long way, but talent with senior leadership can take you even farther.”
Even the coaching staff has a grizzled look, with the 68-year-old Jerry Wainwright stepping out of retirement for a second stint as Terry’s top assistant.
Wainwright, too, isn’t shy about stopping practice to point out something he doesn’t like.
“He has presence on this team,” Terry said of Wainwright, the former coach at UNC-Wilmington, Richmond and DePaul, “and it takes a lot of the heat off me from being the bad guy all the time.”
The official MW preseason poll will be released early next week. Already, though, for the first time in eons, the Bulldogs are generating some honest-to-goodness preseason buzz.
Jon Rothstein, college basketball writer for CBSSports.com, chose Fresno State as one of his five teams that could overachieve.
“Veteran guards win in college basketball and that’s just what the Bulldogs possess,” Rothstein wrote while predicting “five to seven” more wins than last season’s 15.
NBCSports.com picked the Bulldogs to finish fifth in the MW but tabbed them as a “sleeper.”
“I think they have a chance to be really good,” an anonymous coach told the website. “They started out last year without their full contingent of players, and once they got everyone back they were extremely hard to guard. I think they’ll be (in the race) all year because they’re explosive offensively and put a lot of pressure on you defensively. They’re very athletic.”
To a fan base starved for hoops success – 14 years since the last NCAA Tournament berth – those words should taste like bananas foster.
“The sky’s the limit for us,” Edo said. “If we don’t win with this team, man. I can’t see why we won’t win with this team. I love this team right now.”
Certainly, any optimism should come with a warning label. Fresno State had a promising outlook last season, too, until Guerrero’s 17-game eligibility snafu, injuries and nonexistent senior leadership sunk those hopes.
The Bulldogs scraped together a respectable 10-8 MW record, but their lack of size and depth eventually caught up. By the time March hit, Harris was gassed after logging a league-high 36.5 minutes per game.
Depth should not be a problem this season, and neither should team chemistry.
In August, the Bulldogs went on a 10-day trip to Italy for three games against international teams and also benefited from 10 extra days of practice. According to Harris, the trip not only built team unity but also fostered an environment where “guys can challenge other guys without them taking it the wrong way.”
Over Labor Day weekend, players and coaches spent 35 hours with well-known sports psychologist Dr. Joe Carr, working on trust-building and communication skills.
One of Carr’s primary themes: How to better accept criticism.
Even when that entails getting yelled at by the head coach, at practice, in front of the entire team.
“Coach is a perfectionist. He wants everything done right,” Guerrero said. “Can’t get mad at him for that.”