It was 25 seasons ago when the Rainbow Warriors ended a drought and upset BYU in the WAC title game to earn a berth in the 1994 NCAA Tournament.
It was a time when Jamie Dixon was the third assistant coach, Tony Maroney was a true back-to-the-basket 7-foot center, Phil Handy was a tough-as-rails defender, John Molle riled opponents’ fans while earning his own theme song (“Mo-lay, Mo-lay,” a parody of Buster Poindexter’s “Hot, Hot, Hot” chorus) and, of course, Trevor Ruffin.
It was after a workout in which Ruffin, channeling Tim Hardaway‘s crossover moves, that teammates were asked for a description. Chris Walz said Ruffin was the “real deal.” Soon after, Ruffin earned the nickname “Real Deal.” (That’s something for Evander Holyfield to chew over.)
The thing about that magical season was it began with a chill. The Rainbows opened in the Great Alaska Shootout, never breaking 50 points in any of the three games. (in the opener, Portland was a heavy underdog because it was without its best player. Portland ended up winning, 100-47.) After the third Shootout loss, Riley Wallace famously yelled to the players: “I don’t blame you. I blame the coaches who recruited you.” By the way, Wake Forest was led by some freshman named Tim Duncan.
After the 0-3 start, the Rainbows went straight to Chapel Hill, N.C., to play the Tar Heels. It was there where a lawyer made his radio debut. From Alaska to Jeff Portnoy to the NCAAs against Syracuse (Portnoy’s alma mater), that season went full circle.
In homage to the 1993-94 team, tonight’s UH-Long Beach State game has been declared “Retro Night.”
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Long Beach State’s best player is 6-3 guard Deishuan Booker, who is averaging 27 points in five Big West games. Here’s a quick chat:
> On his BW surge: “I guess it was kind of a switch (being flipped). I got more focused, more attention to detail. And my coach needed more from when (Temidayo) Yussuf went out. … I mostly play the point. Sometimes they take me off the ball a little bit because I get double-teamed now and it helps me get some looks. That’s the only time I’ll get off the ball.”
> On his ambidextrous ball-handling: “I actually write with my left hand, but I shoot with my right. I’m comfortable with my left. I eat with my left. When I was at a young age, I used to play only with my right hand and tried to do all these crazy layups. For four weeks, my dad made me train with just my left hand and use my right hand behind my back. All my workouts were just with my left hand. It taught me to dribble with my left hand.”
> On the 49ers’ goals: “I think we’re heading in a good direction. A lot of the guys we’re playing with, this is the first time being in the roles they’re in, whether it’s starting or primary ball-handling. It’s just a learning experience. The preseason helped us a lot. You have to work so hard and be so on point early in the season. You can’t just relax, and learn as you go, otherwise you’ll be exposed bad.”
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Some instructors believe in the wade-into-the-water approach, some believe in the toss-you-in-the-pool method. LBSU coach Dan Monson is a tosser. The 49ers’ pre-league schedule included five Pac-12 opponents and nationally ranked Mississippi State.
“I feel we’ve always tried to use the preseason as a true preseason,” Monson said. “We try to make ourselves go against good competition and see if that can help us get better. It’s always been a philosophy of ours to give them some reality and hopefully then we can know what to work on. You can yell at your kids all you want if they don’t rebound good enough. But when you get pounded by Mississippi State on the boards, the next day in practice you have their attention.”
For the record, MSU had a 52-34 rebounding advantage over the 49ers.
Monson said the 49ers have been inconsistent this season.
“We start the league 2-0 and we’re feeling pretty good about ourselves, and now we’ve lost three in a row,” Monson said. “We have to get ourselves consistent and make sure we get better. The team that’s going to the NCAA Tournament from the Big West is the team that’s improves the most. We’re focused on that.”