Long Beach State began defense of its Big West title Friday when the 49ers opened practice for the 2012-13 season at the Walter Pyramid.
The 49ers return one starter off last year's team that finished with a 25-9 record, including a 15-1 record in the Big West. Senior James Ennis (6-7, 210) averaged 10 points and 4.1 rebounds per game in his first season with the 49ers. He led the team in blocked shots, while finishing second in steals. Ennis was named to the Big West Conference All-Tournament Team, after being named honorable mention all-league following the regular season.
Sophomore guard Mike Caffey (6-0, 170) takes the reins of the 49er offense replacing two-time Big West Conference Player of the Year Casper Ware at point guard. As a true freshman, Caffey averaged 5.9 points and 2.2 assists in 21.8 minutes per game. The Riverside, Calif. product finished with a 1.76 assist-to-turnover ratio, handing out 76 assists while only turning the ball over 43 times in 2011-12.
The 49ers, who are 29-3 in Big West Conference games over the last two seasons, also return two more letterman off the 2011-12 team and two letterman from the 2010-11 team who redshirted last year. Senior Peter Pappageorge (6-0, 182) and sophomore Nick Shepherd (6-9, 214) helped LBSU advance to the NCAA Tournament in 2012, while juniors Kyle Richardson (6-7, 236) and Jerramy King (5-11, 179) contributed to the 49ers' 2011 NIT team.
Despite returning just six players with Division I experience at Long Beach State, the 49ers' roster boasts four more players who have played major college basketball with three of them playing for Power 6 conferences before coming to LBSU.
Junior Dan Jennings (6-8, 255) will help fill the void on the low post left by T.J. Robinson and Eugene Phelps. The 49er forward spent the 2011-12 season as a redshirt for the 49ers after transferring from West Virginia. Before enrolling at WVU, Jennings was one of the top ranked high school centers in the nation.
Juniors Tony Freeland (6-7, 225) and Edgar Garibay (6-10, 250) also will bolster the 49ers low-post presence after transferring to Long Beach State. Freeland spent two seasons at DePaul where he started 15 games and scored in double figures 15 times. Garibay joins LBSU after spending two seasons at Loyola Marymount where he started eight of the 37 games he played in for the Lions.
Junior Keala King (6-5, 196) is the fourth new 49er who spent time at another school. The Arizona State transfer played for the Sun Devils for two seasons and was the team's leading scorer last year before leaving the school in January. The Mater Dei product graduated in 2010 and entered ASU as the 26th-ranked recruit in the nation by Rivals.com.
Sophomore Kris Gulley (6-7, 180), who spent last season redshirting along with Jennings, will compete for playing time at the wing. The Dallas, Texas native spent one season at Independence Community College before coming to Long Beach.
Coach Dan Monson also has five freshmen he can turn to in quest of the team's third straight league title. Branford Jones (6-1, 180) will battle for playing time at the point guard position behind Caffey. Deng Deng (6-6, 176) and Javion Watson (6-2, 187) will compete for time at the wing position along with Ennis, Keala King, and Gulley. Gatete Djuma (6-9, 214) and Brian Smith (6-8, 198) will both provide depth in the post.
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