The Icardo Center rang with the well-loved squeak of sneakers on the court on Friday, September 27 as the ’Runners came together for their first official practice as members of the Western Athletic Conference.
“I’m really pleased with the guys we have on the roster,” Head Coach Rod Barnes told the media. “In the end, I think we’ve got a chance to make the NCAA Tournament.”
The concept of going to the prestigious NCAA Tournament isn’t out of reach for the ’Runners, who are now members of the WAC, a conference with an automatic qualification into the tournament. The team that wins the conference tournament after the regular season will advance onto the Big Dance.
“It’s one of the reasons you play division I basketball,” said junior guard Brandon Barnes.”You come to make it to the NCAA Tournament.”
“It’s gonna come down to one weekend where if we play well, we’re going to the Big Dance,” Coach Barnes said.
The ’Runners look to improve on last year’s 14-16 record. Now boasting improved size and depth, the ’Runners are also welcoming back players such as Zach Lamb and Issiah Grayson, both of whom are poised to return from knee injuries that sidelined them for most or all of last season.
“I’m no good if I’m not at 100 percent,” Grayson, the senior guard said. Grayson made the decision to sit out last season with a knee injury. “I’ve been waiting out a year. It was tough for me to sit and watch my team lose in battle and I couldn’t help them.”
Last season, the ’Runners’ offensive identity was heavily reliant upon the performance of their all-time scoring leader, Stephon Carter. This year, the team boasts added depth in the backcourt and a revamped offense more evenly distributed among the players.
“We don’t have just one guy that they can shut down, we have five guys that we can go to on any given night,” said Barnes. “We have a solid team where any guy can go for 20 points on any given night. We have bigs, we have guards and we have point guards. Everyone can play their role.”
CSUB Athletic Director Jeff Konya was also at practice to express his enthusiasm about this year’s squad.
“We won’t rest until we’ve brought an NCAA Championship to Bakersfield,” Konya said. “I’d like to see this team cutting down the nets at the Final Four.”
Konya likens this ’Runner team to schools like Butler and Gonzaga, lesser known teams whose incredible success has taken them from unknowns to perennial contenders.
“Smaller schools who’ve gained success don’t fly under the radar anymore,” Konya said. “Their formula is out there.”
The ’Runners play their first exhibition game against Occidental College on Saturday, November 2 at 7 p.m. in the Icardo Center. The regular season starts in Washington as the ’Runners face Washington State on November 8.