I noticed more than one Chico State Wildcat basketball fan muttering to themselves after watching the men’s basketball team lose both games in the Mac Martin Invitational over the weekend. Brace yourselves, because contrary to what you may think, supporting a winning basketball team is not your birth-right.
To borrow a line from current Louisville Cardinals men’s basketball coach and former Boston Celtics head coach, “Amir Carraway is not walking through that door. Sean Park is not walking through that door. Rashad Parker is not walking through that door. Gio Estrada is not walking through that door.” The Chico State Wildcat men’s basketball team saw roughly 85 percent of their scoring and four starters graduate, yet somehow this group of underclassmen and freshman are being held to a higher standard ?
After this weekend I was even more encouraged about the direction of Greg Clink’s team. I know the Wildcats lost a pair of games at their own tournament, but they lost with five freshman playing significant minutes against two senior-laden teams. When push came to shove the seniors of Dominican were able to gut out a win on Friday, while Azusa-Pacific was able to jump on the Wildcats early on Saturday and never really let up. That is what veteran players do. And, they are especially good at it late in games. We saw veteran teams use their familiarity with their teammates and their togetherness to beat Chico. Something we have witnessed for much of the Greg Clink era.
I would venture that many Chico State fans forget how dis-jointed the Carraways, Parks and Parkers were, when they first suited up as Wildcats. It wasn’t pretty people. They made a lot of mistakes and it took awhile for that group to gel. This young group of Wildcats should be afforded the same time to find their rhythm. As impressive as a recruiting class last year’s team was, I find this group even more talented. It remains to be seen whether they can reach the heights of three NCAA Tournaments, an Elite Eight and a CCAA regular season title. But, I wouldn’t bet against them. This young group is bursting with talent and is going to bring the fans of Chico State basketball a lot of enjoyment over the next several years.
It struck me on Friday night as I watched Dominican so deftly move the ball and then move without the ball on how important veteran players are. Dominique Taplin, the long-time guard for the Penguins, never seemed rattled. He seemed to always be in control of the situation. Dominican ball movement and understanding of one another was on a different level than Chico State, and you know what? THAT’S OK.
While Chico State’s Jordan Semple, Jordan Barton and Mike Rosaroso will be expected to lead this year’s group, there is a transitional phase with this team that they must experience. Four red-shirt freshman and a true freshman in Jalen McFerren will all see significant time. They are all getting used to playing in this system at this time with one another. It’s going to take time. It will not happen overnight.
Can this team compete at a high level this season ? Absolutely. The pieces are in place, but first, they all have to learn how they fit together before they can play at their highest level. That will take time and it will take patience.
This year’s Chico State Wildcats are that meal cooking on the stove. You can hear it simmering, you know it’s going to taste great, you know it will be fulfilling, but that meal isn’t ready to be served yet. You just have to wait until dinner is served.
PHOTO Courtesy of Chico State Wildcats Athletics…..