Sunday, December 12, 2010

Sixty-eight years later the Wildcats are 7-1 again

Len Whitegone, the man you see coaxing the fans to stand every time the Chico State fight song is played, was a freshman in high school the last time the Chico State men’s basketball team started a season 7-1. “I was probably at a Lowell High School basketball game or some other athletic event if there was one that night,” recalled Whitegone in a Friday morning phone interview. “If I wasn’t, I was probably reading the Green Sheet of the (San Francisco) Chronicle. I also liked to listen to radio programs like the Jack Benny Hour or Bob Hope.”

Whitegone may have been listening to a bit of radio again Saturday night, though not to Bob Hope or Jack Benny. He missed his first and only home game of the season to serve at the Kiwanis Christmas party for kids with cancer. So he might have snuck out to the car and tuned to ESPN Radio, hoping to catch a few moments of the Wildcats’ 69-40 pummeling of Pacific Union that pushed them to 7-1 for the first time since that December night in 1942.

If so, he likely heard some names he isn’t used to hearing. No Chico State starter played more than 19 minutes, and no Chico State reserve played fewer than 11 minutes. And the reserves actually outscored the starters 38-31 in the Wildcats’ fourth win in four seasons against Pacific Union.

Perhaps hoping to catch the eyes of the coaching staff, many of those reserves played well, including two players who have not seen consistent court time thus far this season – Rashad Parker and Amir Carraway. Parker posted career-highs with 13 points, three steals, three rebounds and two assists in his 20 minutes of action. And Carraway contributed two points, three boards, a steal and a blocked shot in his 16 minutes of work.

Damario Sims led the starting group with nine points and four assists. Jay Flores notched six points on a pair of 3-pointers and four assists. Zach Graves added six points, four rebounds, and three steals. Terence Pellum also contributed six points and four rebounds while blocking two more shots to raise his career total to 42, and move him into a tie with Ross Wilkins (1986-87) for ninth on the school’s career list. Roderick Hawkins, playing in his 90th career game, finished with four points on 2-of-3 shooting in 11 minutes.

Josh Jackson nailed both of his 3-point attempts and swiped a steal in 14 minutes of work. Jason Conrad and Chris Sharp each scored a season-best eight points.

Pacific Union, which fell to 1-7, was led by Josh Jewett’s 13 points on 6-of-9 shooting. Steve Catalon added 10 points.

Sims and Flores reversed roles in the first few moments of the game as Sims set up Flores to flush back-to-back buckets from beyond the arc for a 6-0 lead Chico State would never give up. The visiting Pioneers, who scored just 16 first-half points on six buckets, trailed 26-8 after Jason Conrad’s dunk with 10:11 remaining in the half.

And that was prior to their shooting slump. Chico State limited Pacific Union (now 1-7) to just one-of-10 shooting over the final 9:10 of the half and went into the locker room leading 41-16.

Whitegone’s hilarious tails of small-town North Valley history would have been a welcome addition to those used to sitting near him during the second half, as the Wildcats’ lead fluctuated between 20 and 30 points. Whitegone spent all of elementary and high school in Red Bluff aside from that one year in San Francisco. He enlisted in the Navy after graduating, was stationed in Guam, and entered Chico State on Feb. 2, 1948. He’s been one of the Wildcats’ biggest fans ever since.

But Whitegone still remembers 1942 and 1943 better than I recall yesterday.

“One thing I remember about that time is that Corning had a women’s football coach and they beat Orland,” he said. “And the Orland coach said that if he got beat by a woman he was going to join the navy. And he did. The woman coach ended up marrying her quarterback. That caused quite a stir in Corning.”

These days it’s the Chico State men’s basketball team that’s causing a stir. Fortunately, Head Coach Greg Clink is doing it by building a winning program. The Wildcats won a total of seven games the season before he arrived with his staff. This year, his third at the helm, they’ve won seven before Christmas.

And that is a present Whitegone and all faithful Chico State basketball fans are thankful for.

The Wildcats are now off for finals and holiday festivities before resuming California Collegiate Athletic Association (CCAA) action Dec. 30-31 at Cal State L.A. and Cal State Dominguez Hills. They’ll play their first home games of 2011 on Jan. 7-8 against UC San Diego and Cal State East Bay, respectively.

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