The 2015-16 campaign was a rough one for the BR-278 California (PA) men's basketball team. They finished a 7-21 season on a ten-game losing streak, and the end of the year brought with it the retirement of legendary head coach Bill Brown after 20 years with the red-and-black.
There were signs that the end of the Brown era may be near — the past few seasons brought losing records and health issues for coach Brown, including two leg amputations.
But even though there were signs of change ahead, the form that change would take was a mystery.
Until this past Thursday, that is, when the California Vulcans found their new head coach. Kent McBride, former head coach for BR-86 Concord will work to rebuild a proud program that has been as far as the Elite Eight on numerous occasions.
McBride led the Mountain Lions to an upset win over BR-4 West Liberty on their way to the team's first MEC title since 1997, and a 2-2 record vs the Hilltoppers on the year.
During his introductory press conference at Cal U, McBride had plenty of quotes to spark hope for a return to prominence in the PSAC.
"California is a program and a school where we are expected to compete for championships," coach McBride said to a large media crowd. "But before we can compete for championships, there are gonna be some things that the guys and I have to understand need to happen before we can start winning."
It will be interesting to see if and how McBride changes the tempo of play at California (PA). The PSAC is an old-school, defensive league that likes to play in the half-court, where the winning team often scores no more than 50 points. The Mountain East, on the other hand, is a high-tempo, shootout conference where teams averaged 82 points per game last season — the highest average in D2. McBride's Concord team scored 86.6 PPG last season — the third highest in the conference and No. 18 in the country.
No doubt McBride knows his new conference though, as his former Concord squad hails from the same region and normally plays early-season tournaments against PSAC teams. During his tenure at Concord, McBride had a record of 4-3 against current PSAC schools, which includes Pitt-Johnstown and Seton Hill, former conference foes in the now-defunct WVIAC conference.
In his introductory press conference, McBride was undaunted by the philosophical shift his new conference represents.
"There’s not that many differences in the way you play, at least to me. I’m still gonna bring our style of play up here, because it has worked.”
“We are going to teach you how to play, not how to run a play.” – Kent McBride
This stylistic change will definitely help some of Cal’s players, specifically Luka Andjusic, one of the leading scorers for the Vulcans, but one who was by a slower style as he liked to jack long-distance threes and cut in a backdoor to the basket. One player McBride could use as a blueprint for a potential breakout season by Andjusic will be Rob Reed, a premier player for the Mountain Lions who led the team with 21.5 PPG, a 10-point increase from Andjusic’s 11.5 per contest. If McBride can get one guy to become the star, and the rest of the roster can find success in supporting roles, this program will become a force to be reckoned with.
The "shoeprint" of Bill Brown that McBride continuously referred to in his press intro will be tough to fill. But with McBride leading the way, Cal U will look to reclaim one of the top spots in the PSAC West, the PSAC, the Atlantic Region and the NCAA, as they aim to rebuild a proud program.
In the words of Coach McBride, "it may not be as quick as you want it to be, but you cannot skip any steps. We will not skip any steps in this process."
If the steps lay just right, maybe this turnaround in California can be quicker than everyone thought.