As the Long Beach State men’s basketball team quickly approaches its season-opener at UCLA in November, the next couple of weeks will be as valuable as any in deciding how far they will go this season.
From extended film sessions to on-court work including shooting drills and defensive sets, head coach Dan Monson and his staff remain committed to bringing everyone together by the time the season starts.
“This time of the year as a coach, you’re trying to get a million things done in 30 days,” Monson said. “We’re trying to slow down a little bit with the nine new guys and just simplify things.”
While maximizing the quality of time spent in practice with intensity and effort is something the team wants to do to gel quicker, making sure the players are ready for the season remains paramount.
“As always during these dog days, you got guys nicked up and out, so you’re trying to balance putting stuff in with just getting stuff in right,” Monson said. “This group is a very good learning group, but they got a lot to learn because there’s so many new [players].”
The Daily Forty-Niner’s player spotlights for the 2019–20 Long Beach State men’s basketball roster continues with three more of the incoming freshmen.
Justin René, 6’3”, 175 lbs, Guard, Freshman, Long Beach Poly HS (Long Beach)
René is the first Long Beach Poly product to stay home and play for CSULB since Roschon Prince transferred to the Beach in 2014.
“I think anytime you can get local players, it’s awesome because there’s a special interest in them,” Monson said. “People can identify with them because they already know them from high school and there’s a sense of pride. Roschon Prince had ‘Long Beach’ tattooed across his chest, so they’re proud of the area and represent it in a special way.”
In a similar fashion to Prince, René was the MVP for Long Beach Poly as a senior with his superb scoring at 19 ppg, and was named the 2019 Moore League Player of the Year.
As the main scoring option for the Jackrabbits, René was able to get whatever he wanted on the offensive end—often with catch-and-shoot threes or coast-to-coast layups—with little resistance. At the Beach, he will be asked to refine his skills and establish where he can do damage as collegiate defenses make him work and those easy buckets become few and far between.
While René was excused from Thursday’s non-contact practice due to an anticipated absence, Monson spoke on the path ahead of him to make an impact for the Beach.
“[Justin René is] young,” Monson said, “he’s still learning, and I think [his game is] still going to be determined by how hard he works and how he develops. Right now he’s learning a lot of our system, and being a freshman, it’s a long ways from being able to contribute.”
Rodney “R.J.” Rhoden, 6’3″, 195 lbs, Guard, Freshman, Mainland HS (Daytona Beach, Florida)
Moving roughly 2,500 miles from his hometown in Florida, Rhoden finds himself at a new beach.
“I’m getting to meet new people,” Rhoden said, “get to see another part of the world, and it’s just been a great experience so far for me.”
A combo guard with the ability to play multiple positions, Rhoden has the tools to be an effective player on both ends of the floor with his explosive athleticism. Before Monson and his staff can evaluate what Rhoden brings to the table, he will have to prove that he can adapt to the pace of the game at the college level.
“Just like Justin [René],” Monson said, “[Rhoden is] learning, so we don’t know what they can bring us until we put them in a game and put them in a scrimmage situation. Until the game slows down, it’s very difficult for them to play.”
As one of the six players joining the team straight out of high school, Rhoden said he’s felt the family environment within the program and has enjoyed being able to learn from the veteran players.
“Just stay positive through anything,” Rhoden said. “When you’re missing shots or anything. Not even [only] on the court, but off the court. Hang your head high, go 100% in anything you do. That’s what I’ve learned from the vets so far.”
Shaden Knight, 5’10”, 150 lbs, Guard, Freshman, Rancho Cucamonga HS (Rancho Cucamonga)
Knight joins Long Beach’s roster as the smallest player and one true point guard from the incoming recruiting class.
At Rancho Cucamonga High School, Knight’s excellent speed and shooting ability were accentuated by his competitive mentality on the court. Down the line, the team believes he has the potential to be a defensive pest for the Beach, with the lateral quickness and quick hands necessary to pick up opposing teams’ primary ball-handlers 94-feet.
“I like to pride myself on defense and really try and work hard and tire out other teams’ guards,” Knight said. “Really get into them because that’s the only way we’re going to win games. If our guards aren’t guarding and [are] not disruptive on defense, we’re not going to win games.”
Whereas René and Rhoden will need to develop more mentally, Monson said Knight will need to develop more physically.
“Offensively, [Knight] impacts the game immediately with his jet-quick, different pace for us,” Monson said, “but defensively, right now he’s got to get stronger so taller players aren’t able to post him up and be able to just muscle through him.”