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Column: Put The Long Beach Back In Long Beach State Basketball

When Long Beach State announced that head basketball coach Dan Monson had been signed to a five-year extension last week, the university and Monson both admitted that the last few years have been below standard. With an impressive amount of candor and openness, they said that the extension will allow for a fresh start, and a return to the approach that Monson used to build the program into a perennial Big West contender when he first arrived.

From my perspective, that formula was simple: recruit unheralded grinders out of local high schools and build with them, instead of chasing athletic transfers. Monson acknowledged a need to return to more four-year recruits out of high school, and I hope that also means a return to recruiting local athletes.

Casper Ware from nearby Cerritos was not a highly sought-after recruit, nor was Jordan alum Larry Anderson. The two of them (alongside Taft’s Eugene Phelps and TJ Robinson) gave 49er fans some of their best years of the last few decades. They played with pride because they were representing their community—Anderson also brought in fans and coaches from North Long Beach because he was a local kid.

Believe it or not, since those guys graduated in 2012, the program has signed just one Moore League alum out of high school: Compton’s Javonntie Jackson, last year. Others (like Poly’s Roschon Prince) arrived via bounceback, but the league has gone largely ignored, sending an average of two players a year to the Division 1 ranks, but only one to LBSU. Several local high school coaches have complained about a lack of presence from Long Beach State coaches at their games, particularly when contrasted with the number of other Big West schools that do pay visits.

At Long Beach Poly games last year Cal State Fullerton, UC Irvine, Cal State Northridge, Loyola Marymount, Pepperdine and other mid-major programs made appearances, but Poly head coach Shelton Diggs said he never saw a coach from Long Beach State at a practice or a game, despite Poly being a 10 minute drive from campus.

In the last five years, Poly has produced 10 scholarship college basketball players: Diggs said not one of them was offered by Long Beach State. That’s caused surprise and offense among Poly fans, and sincere pain among some Poly families.

When I look at the last few years of 49er basketball, it’s obvious to me what’s been missing: Kyron Cartwright, KJ Feagin, and Drew Buggs.

Those three are Moore League products: Cartwright from Compton, Feagin and Buggs from Poly.

Cartwright was an All-Big East selection for Providence last year as a senior who reached the 1,000 point club. Cartwright was a four-year starter at Providence and led the nation in assists as a junior.

Feagin was a CIF champion and CIF Player of the Year at Poly who didn’t have any Division 1 offers at the end of his senior season. He ended up nabbing a late offer from Santa Clara where he reached the 1,000-point club last season as a junior. He’s been an all-conference player all three years at Santa Clara while shooting 49% from 3-point range.

Buggs is perhaps the most painful of all. The Poly product referred to Long Beach State as his dream school in the newspaper and said it was a “dream come true” to play in the Pyramid when he helped lead Poly to a State SoCal championship and the school’s second-ever state finals appearance. He did that with a blown ACL, learning to play without athleticism or a jumpshot in order to help lead his team in the postseason.

After redshirting to recover from surgery, Buggs started 27 games as a freshman last year for Hawaii, leading the team in assists and steals and breaking the school’s freshman steals record.

All three confirmed: none of them were recruited or offered scholarships by Long Beach State.

To me, bringing high-quality character kids in from the Long Beach community should be the goal of any college coach. These three were particular head-scratchers because they would have made the team better in a concrete way—and they were in the mold of players like Ware, who helped build the best teams in the Monson era.

Instead, all three of them left the city to play for someone else’s college. The mistake has already been repeated again this year with Darryl Polk, an undersized All-CIF player for Poly who had basketball scouts like Frank Burlison singing his praises, just like Ware. Polk also wasn’t recruited by Long Beach State—he recently signed with Pepperdine after sweating through most of his senior season without an offer.

Next season Long Beach basketball fans will have to keep up with Loyola Marymount, Pepperdine, Santa Clara, Cal State Northridge, Hawaii, Weber State, and other colleges to follow local high school talent playing in the college ranks. Hopefully the contract extension does allow Monson and the 49ers a chance to hit the reset button and get back into the community in a meaningful way. That way in seasons to come, local fans will find the “Long Beach” back at Long Beach State.

Mike Guardabascio
An LBC native, Mike Guardabascio has been covering Long Beach sports professionally for 13 years, with his work published in dozens of Southern California magazines and newspapers. He's won numerous awards for his writing as well as the CIF Southern Section’s Champion For Character Award, and is the author of three books about Long Beach history.