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TMC men's basketball preview: A new ride begins

Bolstered by big recruits, Mustangs will try to compete in conference, NAIA

Posted: November 21, 2010 11:06 p.m.
Updated: November 22, 2010 4:55 a.m.

The Master’s College guards Joey Fuca, left, and Leif Karlberg are experienced and ready to lead the Mustangs’ backcourt in 2010 as the team looks to compete for a Golden State Athletic Conference title and reach the NAIA postseason.

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Last year, The Master’s College men’s basketball team was on the cusp.

A 10-3 start and No. 16 ranking had the team poised to be a contender in the Golden State Athletic Conference, with its eyes on an NAIA postseason berth.

But given what happened next, those goals escaped the team and head coach Chuck Martin.

As the Mustangs were disrupted by injuries, opponents began to key in on their frontcourt and they went 8-10 the rest of the way to finish 18-13 and 11-9 in the GSAC.

The most telling loss was the one that ended TMC’s season, an 80-56 defeat in the quarterfinals of the conference tournament to Azusa Pacific, a team it had already beaten twice.

But that was last season.

Thanks to a recruiting class replete with size, the 2010-11 Mustangs (2-1) have a bigger frontcourt surrounding a pair of returning guards who boast double-digit scoring averages so far.

The Mustangs’ backcourt is the only area where significant starting experience returns, led by senior point guard Joey Fuca and sophomore shooting guard Leif Karlberg.

Karlberg said the addition of size has helped the team spread out opposing defenses, which has helped TMC pass the 80-point mark twice in three games — a mark it passed only four times last season.

“It helps a ton having a lot more height because it really opens up the floor,” Karlberg said. “It’s kind of a feed-the-hot-hand offense, so it’s a good feeling to know that any of the five guys on the floor can produce.”

So far, Karlberg has had the hottest hand, nearly doubling his scoring average to a team-leading 16 points per game this year while shooting 50 percent from the 3-point line on 14-of-28 shooting.

Returning sophomores Brandon Bibbins and Devin Dyer will also play important minutes backing up Fuca and Karlberg, respectively.

Fuca said injuries to his teammates last year thrust him into more of a scoring role, but this year, the team’s only senior is more at ease running the offense as a distribution point. It’s the main reason his scoring average has dipped to 13.5 while his assists increased to 5.3 per contest.

“I think this year, we’re going to be a lot more than inside-out than we have in the past,” Fuca said, adding that he’s also ready to push the tempo when necessary.

Up front, TMC lost a trio of senior post players in Dean Hadley, last year’s leading scorer, Raphael Harris, who’s now playing professionally in England, and Thomas Millar, a reliable scorer and defender who led the team in minutes played.

But none of them was taller than 6 feet, 7 inches. And five newcomers make up what is by far the biggest recruiting class in Martin’s five years at the school.

In addition to height and offense, Martin said the team gained depth.

“That’s one thing we weren’t able to do (last year), is overcome the injuries,” Martin said. “We struggled down the stretch, and a lot of those losses were attributable to the fact that we just couldn’t score a lot of points.”

Martin said Andy Shannon, a 6-foot-11-inch junior transfer from Pepperdine, gives the team the size at center it will sorely need to compete in a conference that had four teams finish last season in the top 25.

Shannon leads the team in rebounding at seven boards per game and is also adding six points per contest.

Paul Brown, a junior-college transfer originally from Jamaica, backs up Shannon at center. A pair of Texas junior college transfers in Anthony Wells, a 6-foot-8-inch junior from Mesquite, and Ronnie Dodd, a 6-foot-6-inch junior from Forney, spends time at power forward.

The smallest member of the incoming group, Anthony Cammon, is a 6-foot-1-inch junior who averaged 17.3 points per game as a guard last year at Chaffey College and starts as a guard/forward for TMC.

“During the first couple of games we’ve had, we’re still trying to learn from each other (on offense),” Fuca added. “It’s going to be a learning process.”

Martin echoed similar sentiments, but he’s encouraged by what he’s seen so far.

“We’ve got a team that doesn’t have any real weaknesses offensively,” Martin said.

“The reality is we haven’t played a ton together, and we’re still trying to figure out how good we are,” he added.

Everyone will get a chance to see when TMC opens its conference schedule at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday at San Diego Christian.

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