Thereâ€™s something comforting about sailing a smooth sea. Looking behind you at the tempest just passed gives one a brand-new appreciation for the easy sailing now enjoyed. Thus is the state of the young tenure of the Steve Cleveland era at Fresno State.
Emerging from the state of disorder that was once the Fresno State basketball program, Cleveland has, by all early indications, righted the once wayward vessel. The basketball team is now stocked full of the type of individuals who can make a community proud.
Behind us are the constant flow of scandals and disreputable characters. Memories now just a ripple of days passed. Suffice to say, the relative anonymity that Fresno State basketball now enjoys in the national media is a nice contrast to the constant turmoil, the perpetually stormy sea that was known only a handful of years ago.
In this instance, no press is better than bad press.
Cleveland has come to Fresno State with a zero tolerance policy that was sorely missed during the Tarkanian/Lopes era. Thankfully gone are the days of â€œFelony State University.â€? Gratefully passed are national headlines featuring Fresno State players entering drug rehab clinics, student athletes brandishing samurai swords, and Sportscenter spots about Bulldogs killing young girls in drug transactions gone awry.
So in the words of this reporter, and rather presumptuously echoing the sentiments of a community breathing a collective sigh of relief: â€œThank you Coach Cleveland.â€?
In Clevelandâ€™s short time at Fresno State, he has managed to bring respectability back to a program that was sorely in need of it.
Last season in his first year, working with the remains of a team left largely in shambles, Cleveland was able to guide the team to a winning record. This season the team is starting to realize the Steve Cleveland plan.
At the end of his second season with the team he has led the Bulldogs to a 22-8 regular season record, a third seed in the WAC tournament and an almost certain post season invitation to the NIT. Furthermore, given the roll the Bulldogs are currently on, it is not out of the realm of possibilities for this team to pull off an upset or two in the WAC tournament and receive its first bid to the NCAA tournament since the 2000-2001 season.
But itâ€™s important for us, the fans, to keep things in perspective. Rome wasnâ€™t built in a day and Duke did not become a perennial powerhouse overnight. We must realize that raising a program from the ashes is a gradual process, and in most cases (unless your name is Jerry Tarkanian), that program is going to have to crawl before it can walk, walk before it can run and run before it can jump into the national spotlight.
The important thing to remember is that he is doing things the right way. This is a team full of quality individuals that play hard every time they step on the court. There is no Chris Herron, Courtney Alexander or Rafer Alston on this team. No player on this team is going to threaten the NBA lottery.
What we do have, though, is a TEAM. And a very good team at that. We have Quinton Hosley who will be on the radar screen of many NBA teams come draft day. We have Kevin Bell who plays his heart out for 40 minutes of every game and gets nothing but better for each one of those minutes. We have Eddie Miller, Hector Hernandez and Dominic McGuire who all show up ready to play every night. And what we have is a coach in Steve Cleveland who does things right.
Fresno State is no longer the college basketball version of the house of ill repute. It is no longer the home of college basketball cast-offs and social miscreants who get second, third and fourth chances because they are â€œGood kids.â€?
When confronted with a player who violated â€œundisclosedâ€? team rules this season, coach Cleveland did not treat him with â€œkid gloves.â€?
He acted steadfastly, took the gloves off and ran him off the team before he could infect the rest of the players with his negative energy.
So for now, Iâ€™ll take the nice, easy sail-boat-ride over the speed boat of yester-year. Iâ€™ll look back at that stormy sea, accept it for the excitement that it was, and look forward to the tepid waters that lay ahead.
And from this humble reporter to Steve Cleveland, I have only two final words: â€œThank you.â€?