By Esteban Ramirez
Senior Staff Writer
A winning legacy in sports is something that is built on excellence year after year.
For many years in Division II, the CSU Bakersfield men’s basketball program had built a legacy that could make the most prestigious schools envious.
Now, the Roadrunners have begun to lay the framework for a strong legacy in Division I with two strong postseason runs.
“We still have a lot of work to do, but I feel we made a stamp on this program,” said redshirt-senior forward Jaylin Airington. “We started something special.”
CSUB head coach Rod Barnes shared in the sentiment.
“I think people realize who we are now,” said Barnes. “We have been a team that we feel in the past two years, and even at the end of [the year before] that we were making a run. As I told my team, to win almost 50 games in two years, is something special.”
This season the Roadrunners finished with their most wins and most postseason victories in their D-I history.
They are showing that this program can be just as good in Division I. CSUB has improved each year, providing memorable and historic moments.
The Roadrunners aren’t just succeeding in D-I. They are thriving.
They are building a basketball legacy in D-I.
However, the journey to building something special in this division started with a great legacy in D-II.
CSUB won three national championships in D-II. The Roadrunners won back to back in the 1993 season and then the 1994 season.
They won the third one in 1997, establishing a legacy in D-II as a strong program.
But CSUB wanted to take the next step as a program, and time came to move to the division.
President Horace Mitchell began the process to move the team to D-I back in 2007 and CSUB finally moved in 2010.
“We made a collective decision to move to Division I,” said Mitchell during an interview in January of 2016. “We are there now, and in fact, we are being very successful.”
After a 10-19 season in their first year, the Roadrunners hired a former Naismith Coach of the Year in Rod Barnes.
However, even with Barnes at the helm the D-I transition was still a tough one for CSUB.
For the following two seasons, the Roadrunners had a combined record of 30-31. But it’s those seasons that helped build the structure of success in the coming years.
“It started when Coach Barnes got the job here,” said CSUB alumnus and former center Aly Ahmed. “He started to improve the program piece by piece. The success doesn’t show in one night.”
Airington said Barnes had a vision and the team believed in him.
“We trusted the process and we just believed that it could happen for us, and it did in so many ways,” he said. “They brought the right man in, and he has been getting the job done.
“He will continue to get the job done here at CSUB, leave a legacy for CSUB and put everyone on the right path.”
The following season, CSUB made the jump to the Western Athletic Conference, giving the Roadrunners’ an opportunity to play in the NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Tournament.
Their first season they only went 14-19 and fell in the semifinals of the WAC Tournament against New Mexico State University, 57-53.
The framework was established and set up the accomplishments for the year that followed.
CSUB finished the 2015-2016 season with a 24-9 record, and its first and only NCAA tournament berth.
The Roadrunners beat the NMSU Aggies for the first time in the WAC Tournament finals thanks to the biggest three-pointer in the program’s history from senior guard Dedrick Basile.
They went on to play against the University of Oklahoma in the NCAA tournament.
It set the table for this year’s historic run.
Throughout the season, CSUB beat teams like Fresno State, New Mexico State and Grand Canyon.
But this year also brought a D-I atmosphere with it, as CSUB had four sellouts.
The first was against Fresno State on Nov. 22 and the second was against Bethesda on Dec. 15. The following sellout was on Jan. 21 against Utah Valley University and against New Mexico State on Feb. 9.
“When I first came to CSUB, I could count the number of fans in the stands,” said Airington. “The atmosphere wasn’t that great. We didn’t have that many I would say, but people that came always showed up and supported us. It wasn’t as great as it is now, having all the sellouts and all the fans coming in with their shirts off. It was like a real college feel now when you are at the games at CSUB.”
Yes, CSUB did not make it to the NCAA tournament after it fell to the Aggies in the WAC Tournament finals, but it led to the Cinderella run in the National Invitation Tournament.
The run energized the city of Bakersfield.
“I think now on a national level, people are starting to realize we got a pretty good program in Bakersfield,” Barnes said. “These guys have played a huge role in it, but our administration has been really supportive of us. Our community has really energized our city.”
CSUB made history this season beating top-seeded Cal in the first round 73-66, earning the program’s first Division I postseason victory.
They followed it with a win against Colorado State 81-63 and a monumental victory over University of Texas at Arlington, 80-76.
CSUB became the first eighth-seeded team in the NIT to earn a spot in the semifinals in New York City.
That was a huge moment for this program.
I know it’s not the Final Four, but this is something no other team in the history of the NIT has done, since it was founded in 1938.
“This has been a great run for our team and for the program,” said Basile. “It was a great opportunity for us.”
CSUB lost to Georgia Tech 76-61 in Madison Square Garden, but it got a whole city hyped for the future of this program.
“I felt like we could have the same level of success in Division I that we had at the Division II level,” said CSUB Athletics Direcror Kenneth Siegfried. “It has all come to fruition, and all of it is because I truly believe we got something special going on here at CSUB and in our city.”
A winning legacy has been established in D-I. The nation may not have known who CSUB was three years ago, but the Roadrunners have started something special.
“The next step for CSUB is continue to win and grow,” said Airington.
“We feel like the next step for us is to keep going,” said Barnes. “We were anticipating this year to be a great year, but I think we are getting to the point that we got to expect a great year every year.”
That’s exactly what the Roadrunners need to do to keep building on their D-I legacy. Consistent excellence is the key for the program.
CSUB is on the right track.
The Roadrunners just need to stay the course and continue to get better each year.
They can always add depth, improve their offensive schemes to get easier looks and play better in the second halves of games.
Every team can get better and CSUB is no different.
As for now, my hat’s off to what you have accomplished this year, CSUB.