The road to supremacy in the Big West Conference appears to be more open than it has been in recent years. Gone are many of the talented mainstays such as Johnathan Galloway, Kyle Allman, Jr. and TJ Shorts II of the Big West men’s hoops world.
Long Beach State men’s basketball was no bystander in the conference’s offseason of changes but was instead at its forefront. From six seniors to just one, the Beach brought 11 new players into the preseason, returning just 15.2 points per game (20.2%) from last season.
Before playing its 16 non-conference games, Long Beach knew it would be a process full of growing pains. However, after defeating Division II Cal State LA to rinse the bad taste of two blowout losses on the road Saturday, head coach Dan Monson said he felt the team lost its confidence at times in 2019.
“I’ve been telling them the last two weeks of last year,” Monson said, “that we weren’t as good as we were those first couple of weeks against UCLA and San Diego and to give me that team back. I want that same team that didn’t have agendas, and the emotion they had those couple of weeks to start the season. We lost some of that, but I think over this break we gained it back. We’re in that same ballpark again and if we just go forward from there, we’ll be good.”
Although the Beach had one of, if not the toughest preseason schedule in the Big West, its 5-11 record up to this point is underwhelming despite the flashes of brilliance headlined by a Power 6 upset over Providence.
Losing multiple games in bench-clearing fashion, to some of the best programs in the nation as well as opponents arguably within Long Beach’s reach, proved the team has plenty of room for improvement on both ends.
“This team knows the grind now,” Monson said, “and maybe humbling is a better word for our preseason because we came back from Costa Rica and coaches included, we were giddy. We all felt like we had a special team. We still might, but we’re humbled from that now and learned that we have work to do.”
Among the laundry list of items for Beach—amidst finding its identity with starting lineup and minutes changes on a game-to-game basis—has included simply coming together as a team.
Junior forward Jordan Roberts said the stretch of games was probably the toughest preseason in his career mentally.
“It was a whole new adjustment for me,” Roberts said. “A bunch of new guys, new chemistry that we gotta bond together, and we had a tough schedule too at that, but in the end I feel it will be a positive thing for us.”
Voted by his teammates to be one of the squad’s captains at the beginning of his third-year campaign, Roberts said he has also made it a priority to lead by example with his effort, intensity and approach to Big West play.
“When the conference schedule rolls around, there’s no time for mess-ups,” Roberts said. “You gotta hurry up and be onto the next game and next play. We can’t sit and dwell on anything in the past. We gotta keep moving forward because our goal at the end of the day is the Big West Championship.”
With its last couple of days heading into conference play, the Beach is gearing up to do what it couldn’t in seven tries against non-conference opponents—win on the road.
Preparing to visit two of the top-3 teams in the Big West’s preseason media poll in CSUN (3) and UC Santa Barbara (2), freshman center Joshua Morgan said the Beach has been ramping up its intensity during practices.
“We have been focusing on our effort levels,” Morgan said. “We want to pick that up a lot. We’ve been focusing on every play. Running up and down, really pushing it offensively, and defensively especially. We want to end up being the best defensive team in the Big West, that’s our goal.”
Defensively, Morgan has already been inching towards Long Beach State’s record books. The 6-foot-11-inch freshman leads the Big West in blocks, tallying 32 rejections (2.0 bpg), often as a starter.
“I was recruited here for [my shot-blocking ability],” Morgan said, “and so far that’s what I’ve done and I plan to keep doing it. So no, it hasn’t surprised me. I’m just going to keep building on it because that’s just the way I play.”
Once voted by media to finish sixth in the conference, the Beach will have to emerge dramatically from the rest of the pack to stand atop the Big West’s elite in March.
“With a new team, they’re not expecting us to go far since we’re so young right now,” Roberts said. “That’s how we like it though, we like to be doubted. We like to surprise people.”
Long Beach State will begin Big West play against CSUN Jan. 8 at 7 p.m. at the Matadome.