Kwame Vaughn Looking to Lead Cal State Fullerton Back to the NCAA Tournament

17 Jan

Last Season Long Beach State controlled the Big West from start to finish and this season they were picked to repeat as champion.  As Dan Monson and the 49ers look around they will see a mirror full of a familiar face, the one conference foe to beat them last season, Cal State Fullerton.

The Titans finished 2nd in the Big West last season finishing the regular season with a 21-8 record but were upset in the first round of the conference tournament.  Before the 2012-13 season the school’s all-time winningest coach Bob Burton decided to step down.  Over the course of nine seasons Burton had amassed a record of 155-122 and led the school to its 2nd NCAA Tournament appearance in 2008.    Fullerton turned to a familiar face to replace Burton, Andy Newman who had been an associate head coach for all of Burton’s nine seasons was named the interim head coach.  The choice in coaches has made the transition to the post-Burton era easier on a team looking to get back to the NCAA Tournament.

Fullerton has two NCAA Tournament appearances in its history, in 1978 they made the Elite Eight before falling to Arkansas in the regional final.   It took 30 years for the Titans to make a return to the tournament, in 2008 they won the Big West Tournament and earned a 14 seed where they fell to Wisconsin 71-56.  Since 2008 the Titans have failed to make out of the Big West Quarterfinals, a fact that hasn’t been lost on senior guard Kwame Vaughn.  Vaughn says of the way last year ended,

“It was a huge motivation. I think we fell short of what our common goal was and we came in with a little chip on our shoulder to win a championship this year.”

Coming into this season the Titans were again picked to finish second in the conference.  This year they have two elements teams need to succeed in March, a veteran squad (they boast a roster with 10 upperclassmen) and senior guards and the goal is to deliver the school’s 3rd NCAA tournament appearance.  The backcourt of  D.J. Seeley and Vaughn lead the Titans in their quest to get back to the NCAA Tournament.   Vaughn and Seeley have a familiar story, both transferred to Fullerton after the 2009-10 season. Seeley joined the Titans after leaving California and Vaughn decided to leave San Francisco and decided on Fullerton to continue his college career.

Vaughn says having Seeley and Coach Newman have been helpful since he arrived on campus,

“It’s great to have another guy that’s going through the same situation. It’s made it easier when you can help each other through and Coach Newman is a great head coach, a positive, guiding man, and he’s been great in helping making our senior year the best it can be, putting us in the right situations to be successful.”

While Vaughn had a successful two seasons at San Francisco he saw a jump in many offensive categories once he arrived in Fullerton.  He has increased not only in points but also in rebounds, assists free throw percentage and three-point percentage since the switch in schools.  The reason for the improvement?

“Just hard work, dedication, better opportunities, better situations for me. I’ve got great teammates this year. I think we’re much closer and it creates great chemistry on the court that’s helped them know where I’m at on the court.”

The Titans don’t have a prolific history when it comes to post-season play but this year they hope to add another chapter to that history.  Now is the time of year where they will position themselves for the conference tournament which takes place March 14-16 in Anaheim.  How Newman’s squad is seeded could come down to three stretches between Saturday and the regular-season finale.  The first is back-to-back home games with UC-Irvine (Jan. 17) and league-favorite Long Beach State (Jan.19), the second is a four-game stretch in February that begins with a home date against Hawaii on the 2nd followed by a 3-game trip to UC-Riverside (Feb.9), Long Beach State (Feb. 13) and UC-Irvine on Feb. 16.   The final test should come in the home-and-home with current league leader Cal Poly, Fullerton returns home from that 3-game road trip to host the Mustangs on February 20th and wrap up the regular season on March 9 in San Luis Obispo.

The Titans are one of the most prolific scoring teams in the country averaging 83.9 points, good enough for third in the country.  So for the Titans to be successful in reaching the NCAA Tournament what is most important besides the offense?

Vaughn says one thing is more important than most,

“I think we can stick with anyone and beat anyone when we box out and rebound. When we don’t do that, it’s kind of like a high-risk, high-reward situation for us. The risk of us playing so small is that we can run teams out of the gym with our stamina, our energy, our athleticism. However, with the team being so small, if we don’t rebound, if we don’t box out, that gives the other team so many more chances, so many more possessions to go down and score.”

With a team that has been through the rigors of Big West play, a veteran motivated team Cal State Fullerton and Kwame Vaughn are primed to take their best shot a Big West hat trick; a regular season and tournament championship and the automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament that comes with it.

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