Ryan Tubongbanua / The Collegian
Six freshmen lead the way for the Fresno State menâ€™s basketball teamâ€™s youth movement
For menâ€™s basketball coach Steve Cleveland, freshmen are usually less scrutinized compared to their older teammates when looking at a team roster.
â€œThe one thing that happens, sometimes, when you have freshmen is you kind of go overlooked and you donâ€™t have the full attention of a lot of people very quickly,â€ Cleveland said.
Yet six freshmen have been the center of attention for Fresno State basketball this season. The number of freshmen outnumbers the number of upperclassmen including seniors.
Four have gotten a good amount of playing time in the first two regular season games. Two of them, Mychal Ladd and Paul George, are already starting for the Bulldogs.
Even though the season barely started, the freshmen have had a lot to learn. Cleveland, however, seems very impressed with their results so far.
â€œI think theyâ€™re all making good progress,â€ Cleveland said. â€œTheyâ€™re going to have nights where they play well and other nights where they donâ€™t. The four that have had good significant playing opportunities are all making good use of that time.â€
Cleveland not only has been impressed with the results he sees out of his freshmen class, but also likes their growth on and off the court from a personal standpoint.
â€œTheyâ€™re a mature group of young men,â€ Cleveland said. â€œThey know the challenge ahead of them. They know weâ€™re going to be the underdog almost every game so thatâ€™s motivation in itself. Theyâ€™re very athletic, they love the game, theyâ€™re good students, and theyâ€™re doing the things they need to do on and off the court. So thatâ€™s a great start.â€
One player already making a head start among the freshmen is 6-foot-7 guard Paul George.
The Palmdale native leads the team in scoring, and has also emerged as a highlight reel player and Internet sensation with his thunderous dunk over Saint Mary Gael defenders Monday night.
Georgeâ€™s dunk has surfaced on YouTube.com. His play was also nominated the No.1 play on ESPN Sportcenterâ€™s â€œTop Ten.â€
George was stunned about the exposure he received from that dunk.
â€œI was surprised. It wasnâ€™t going through my mind at all,â€ George said. â€œIt really surprised me that it made it to ESPN.â€
George is leading the way with an average of 19.5 points per game, and has played an average of 33 minutes.
George was recruited by San Diego State and Pepperdine. Georgetown also took interest before the final decision was made to come to Fresno State.
â€œI was once committed to Pepperdine but the coaches left, so that was kind of out of my mind,â€ George said. â€œI probably wouldnâ€™t have much playing time at Georgetown as I would here.â€
While George is making headlines and highlight reels, Ladd is doing some damage of his own.
Ladd is averaging over 26 minutes per game and is currently third on the team with 11.5 points per game.
The Seattle native turned down two PAC-10 powerhouses to play for the Bulldogs.
â€œStanford and Washington were good schools, but Fresno State was a good place for me to be,â€ Ladd said. â€œI felt that I would be the good guard they needed and they play my style of basketball.â€
Ladd also immediately bonded with his coaches at Fresno State.
â€œI really was closer to the Fresno State coaches. I got to know them better than I got to know the other coaches,â€ Ladd said.
All of the freshmen share one goal in mind with Fresno State basketball this year and for years to come.
â€œWe want to be able to show that just because we are young, doesnâ€™t mean that we have to be last place or struggle,â€ George said.
Ladd wants to see his team do what the womenâ€™s team did one year ago; win the Western Athletic Conference title.
â€œThatâ€™s our goal, win the WAC,â€ Ladd said. â€œWe want to do what the girls did last year and show the country weâ€™re not who they think we are.â€