If Saturday’s open practice was any indication, the Long Beach State men’s basketball team will probably not have to worry about a sophomore slump next season.
While the practice and subsequent scrimmage still left some questions unanswered, it became obvious that the pieces are in place for the 49ers to make major strides in 2009-10.
The Beach returns most of the core that led to a 15-15 record last season, including Big West Conference first-team selection Larry Anderson. The sophomore guard has taken to the role of team leader with the departure of seniors Donovan Morris and Maurice Clady. Along with being vocal, Anderson’s 26 points in the scrimmage is a sign that he could prove to be the go-to guy late in games for the 49ers.
Anderson’s fellow sophomore teammate T.J. Robinson was also impressive on Saturday, as the 6-foot-8 forward has continued to expand his skills. Robinson, who averaged 11.4 points per game last season, has managed to work a mid-range jump shot into his arsenal, which can make him a versatile player in head coach Dan Monson’s offense.
Monson indicated at the start of individual workouts that three players — Andrew Fleming, Greg Plater and Eugene Phelps — had made the most improvement over the summer. He reiterated that feeling at Big West Conference Media Day in early October.
Phelps, who Monson mentioned had never lifted weights until he came to LBSU, averaged 3.7 ppg last season in limited minutes.
Monson has yet to indicate a starting lineup, but Phelps’ 20-point, 12-rebound performance on Saturday showed that the 6-foot-6 forward could be ready to make an appearance in the starting five at some point this year.
One aspect of the 49ers roster that is getting overlooked by many is the loss of Cornel Williams. The 6-foot-4 forward averaged just 4.2 ppg last season as a senior, but he could be counted on for the big shot at crucial points in many games.
Plater, normally a 3-point specialist, could be the one take over that role for the 49ers, and then some.
The 6-foot-1 guard has shown flashes of being an impact player during his time at The Beach. He was named to the Big West All-Freshmen team as he set the new LBSU freshman 3-point record with 45 in 2007-08. Last season, Plater made his presence known in a game against Cal Poly when he converted on 3-of-5 baskets from long distance in the final two minutes of the first half.
For what it’s worth, Plater scored 30 points to lead all scorers in Saturday’s scrimmage, and it could be a sign that the junior is on his way to having a greater impact this year.
With everything that the 49ers have going for them, the threat of a letdown still looms.
The ‘Niners are widely regarded as one of the top teams in the conference, but a challenging nonconference schedule to start the season awaits them. Trips to Kentucky, Duke and Texas are no small task, and a losing record is feasible going into Big West play.
A subpar record could just end up being a number as the experience gained could translate to victories come conference play.
Monson will also have to figure out whom he wants to play at the center position this season. Fleming and 6-foot-9 transfer Lin Chang continue to battle for the starting nod, but there is no clear-cut option at this point.
Despite the early tests and roster uncertainty, Monson’s third year at the helm could prove to be the breakthrough season for the 49ers.