The Fresno State men’s basketball team has not played with its full complement of players yet this season and is unlikely to have point guard Cezar Guerrero back when it takes on St. Katherine College in a Sunday matinee at Save Mart Center — the Bulldogs are still waiting for fall semester grades to be posted in order to recertify his NCAA continuing eligibility requirements.
The deadline is Monday, which of course does not help against the Firebirds. But the Bulldogs are getting a key piece back together in Julien Lewis, the Texas transfer who missed 17 days of preseason practice with a concussion and just now is starting to regain a comfort level on the court.
Last out, in a 71-68 loss at Pacific, Lewis hit 10 of 15 shots and scored a career-high 29 points, which is more like what was expected from the 6-foot-4 guard.
“I think he’s been trying really hard. I think there were a couple games where he pressed a little bit in terms of worrying about his offense and whether or not the shot is going in,” coach Rodney Terry said. “But I thought he last game he carried himself the right way all the way through and even when he missed a shot or two he still had a positive attitude. It was just a matter of time before he started seeing some things go his way a little bit.”
In the Bulldogs’ first 11 games, Lewis scored an average of 11.3 points per game, but had been wildly inconsistent in hitting only 37.3% of his shots including 6 of 43 (14%) at the 3-point line.
He scored 19 points in an opening loss at Pepperdine and had 23 against East Carolina at the Gulf Coast Showcase in Florida, but just five against Cal, eight against UC Irvine.
In the two games leading into the Dec. 20 game at Pacific, Lewis had hit just two of 11 shots, scoring two points in a loss at Texas Tech and two points in a victory over Cal Poly.
“I do feel a lot better,” Lewis said. ‘I’m getting back in the flow and getting back to where I need to be, attacking, being aggressive for my teammates. I felt pretty good (at Pacific), but I know I can do that every night. It was like it gave me my confidence back a little more, going back out there and being able to play as I should every game being more aggressive, the way Coach Terry wants me to play.
“Before the game, all he did was say, ‘Just go out there and play. Have fun and be you.’ He told me that and I did what he told me to do. Be aggressive, be that guy. I didn’t even worry about scoring the ball, I just played basketball like I know I can play, defense and offense.”
The matchup against St. Katherine can be another step in that direction.
“His best basketball is still way ahead of him,” Terry said. “Once he consistently puts it in the book every night, I think he’ll gradually be the kind of guy that we thought we were going to get from the beginning. But I will say this, in his defense, he missed a lot of practice time. I mean, 17 days out with no practice, no ball, that’s a hard deal for anybody to come back from. At the start of the season, to think you’re going to come out and set the world on fire, it’s not going to happen that way. He had to catch up with all the things we were doing, he had to kind of play his way through it.”
But Lewis is closing in, as are the Bulldogs. Alex Davis, who missed four games while rehabbing a high ankle sprain, is moving much better. Backup point guard Emmanual Owootoah, who sat out the loss at Pacific with a concussion, could return against St. Katherine.
Guerrero is the big one — the Bulldogs open Mountain West Conference play on New Year’s Eve at New Mexico and hope to have their point guard available.
“It has been a hard process, getting everybody back at one time,” Terry said. “It’s almost like you’re starting all over again, to be honest, because we haven’t had a chance to put those lineups out there. Even in practice we haven’t been able to really do it — it’s hard to have Cezar in the lineup in practice when he isn’t playing in the games. It has been a difficult situation, but at this point we just have to go with what we’ve got.”