Forgive the California University of Pennsylvania men’s basketball team if it feels inferior. The Vulcans are the second-most-recognized hoops team on their own campus. The women’s team is the reigning NCAA Division II National Champions. It is not easy being second best in a field of only two; just ask Sonny Bono, Alvah Roebuck and Patrick Star. So this year, the men’s team will try to crawl out of the impressive shadow cast by its big sister.
To start with, Vulcans is a pretty cool name. They are named after the God of Volcano Fire, and not after anything to do with Star Trek — sorry, nerds, there will be no mind-meld references. In a landscape of collegiate monikers like Wildcats, Eagles, Panthers and Tigers, Vulcans is unforgettable. Last year, however, the team finished a forgettable 14-14 in the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference’s west division. This, I assume, caused many Cal U students to drink lots of beer. Coach Bill Brown hopes to improve on that record, though, and there certainly is no substitute for experience.
Brown begins his 20th season as the Vulcans’ leader. He’s been around as long as South Park, Pearl Jam and Hillary Clinton. Not only that, he is one of the most successful coaches in PSAC history. He’s 358-190, the best record in school history. A five-time PSAC West coach of the year, Brown has 438 wins total including other coaching gigs. That total puts him in the top 20 of active D-II coaches for wins — so his credentials check out.
He learned some tricks while an assistant under Eddie Sutton of the Arkansas Razorbacks in the early ’80s. Brown then paid it forward with Shaka Smart. Smart was an assistant under Brown at Cal U before moving on to success with Virginia Commonwealth. He parlayed that into the head coaching job at Texas. It seems that Bill Brown is making his own shadows.
The Vulcans’ season started off a bit cold with three straight losses, but they righted the ship with a trouncing of Lock Haven and are now 4-7. The Vulcans return three starters from last year’s team: Josh Dombrosky, a 6’6” forward from Shenandoah Heights, in central Pennsylvania, and 6’9” center Richard Smith from scenic Cleveland. Khalil Jabbie, from Alexandria, Va., returns to run the backcourt with Drew Cook, a 6’1” freshman from Beaver Falls. Tony Richardson, a 6’8” sophomore forward from Virginia rounds out the starting five. Serbian Luka Andjusic, a 6’5” guard from Belgrade, is the sixth man. Yes, his name is Luka; I hope his dorm room is on the second floor. This is a well-rounded squad that eventually should gel under Brown.
Cal U plays its home games at the campus’ Convocation Center. It is a $60 million arena that seats 6,000. The arena got off to a rough start, going over budget, and in 2012 featured a grand opening that was a bit of a dud as well; it was a gamble that didn’t pay off. According to news reports, Kenny Rogers played to either a half-full or half-empty arena, depending on your point of view. I truly believe that if that opening had happened in 1981, it would have been a sellout. But 12 bad plastic surgeries and no hit songs later, and the Kenny Rogers experiment got the place off to a bad start. The Convocation Center makes the odd claim of being the biggest indoor venue between Pittsburgh and Morgantown. That’s quite an honor if you don’t look too deeply into it, I suppose.
In January, the Vulcans welcome other PSAC rivals, including a Jan. 6 game against West Chester. Seton Hill comes to the “House that Kenny Rogers Built” on Jan. 9, followed by Gannon on Jan. 13. If the men’s team has not improved by then, go check out the women’s team; it’s 8-2 so far.