In its last day before the NCAA Tournament, Cal State Fullerton men’s basketball is not starstruck by the March Madness stage

In Men's Basketball, Sports, Top Stories
CSUF head coach Dedrique Taylor addresses his team the night before they take on Purdue in the NCAA Tournament.
(Jared Eprem / Daily Titan)

DETROIT – When Cal State Fullerton men’s basketball stepped off of the plane in Detroit for the NCAA Tournament, the bone-chilling 27-degree weather reminded the team how different March Madness would be from the rest of its season.

Titans Head Coach Dedrique Taylor’s teeth must have been visibly chattering because he said a man outside asked if he was “a little cold.” Taylor was, but he’s also willing to wait for warmth if it means his team is still dancing along in the tournament.

“We’re going to do what we can to stay here,” Taylor said. “California, they’ll be there when we get there. We’re going to enjoy this moment and embrace the cold.”

After braving the cold, the Titans started their first day with a light practice in Little Caesars Arena. Jump shots, post moves and free throws consumed all of their time on the court.

The team also participated in a half-court shooting contest.

CSUF stayed true to its trash-talking roots during those 40 minutes on the hardwood. After forward Josh Pitts sunk his first pair of shots, he airballed his next attempt, prompting laughter from guard Khalil Ahmad.

“That’s the first one I’ve missed all day. Quiet down, bro,” Pitts said.

Ahmad would not back down, which frustrated Pitts. This exchange, however, showed how relaxed and loose the Titans were, highlighting that they were not fazed heading into their contest versus the No. 2 Purdue Boilermakers.

“We all know that upsets happen. We’re just trying to be the next one,” said Titans guard Kyle Allman.

However long they last in the tournament, Allman and his teammates are soaking up the program’s first Big Dance appearance since 2008. Ahmad said they’re going to remember this opportunity for the rest of their lives.

Taylor encouraged his players to do just that, and to reflect on their work this season.

“This group of guys, in particular, have bought into what it takes to get here. I think we embrace this moment and allow our butterflies to run their course,” Taylor said.

Following its open practice, CSUF retreated to Auburn Hills for an extended, detail-oriented practice in the Detroit Pistons’ facility before heading to Detroit Beer Company for the team’s pep rally.

Taylor, athletic director Jim Donovan, senior associate athletic director Steve DiTolla and President Fram Virjee made speaking appearances to share their thoughts on the journey to the tourney.

“It’s magic. It’s the kind of thing I dream of for our students,” Virjee said.

Virjee has some experience being around NCAA success as his son Connor won four national championships in water polo for USC when he was in college, and he knew he wanted more of those experiences before it was certain the Titans would even have them.

“I decided they were going to win halfway through the last game (of the Big West Tournament) and I said ‘If they’re going, I’m going,’” Virjee said.

Once the speakers said their final words at the bar, CSUF exited the venue for a team dinner to avoid distractions and set its sights on its matchup with the Boilermakers, which will take place Friday at 9:40 a.m. PST.

This game marks the first time since its November contest against Georgia that Fullerton is a double-digit underdog, according to ESPN. Taylor, however, said he doesn’t pay attention to point spreads or predictions, regardless of if they’re in favor of his team or not.

“Underdog, overdog, whatever that analogy is, I don’t really buy into it. We’re Cal State Fullerton and we’re always the underdog. Even when we’re picked, I still feel like we’re the underdog because people don’t expect us to do anything,” Taylor said.

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