It was the last home game of the season this past Saturday night for six CSUB Roadrunner men's basketball players who were honored as part of senior night festivities at Rabobank Arena. This year's senior night held a little more meaning because all six that were honored pre-game, have either already completed their undergraduate degrees or will do so in the next quarter and graduate this spring.
We knew when Rod Barnes took this head coaching job three seasons ago that the Roadrunners would not only be better on the court, but also in the classroom where he has an impeccable record of graduating his players. When this class crosses the stage in the spring, he'll be a perfect 13-for-13 when it comes to seniors who have played in his program; what an accomplishment for all involved.
While fans have cheered these student-athletes on for the last couple of seasons, I've had the privilege to get to know them personally, on the road, in airports and at countless team meals. They will be missed.
First there's Matthew Ratto. A guard who came to CSUB from Modesto JC and although he hasn't played a ton, every time Ratto touches the floor he hits a big shot. He has also possessed a great attitude over the years and is one of the funniest and most intelligent young men we have in our program. He scored 15 points in our home opener while draining five three-pointers. He also came off the bench to force overtime at Fresno State by hitting a three with just four seconds on the clock. When his number is called by the coaching staff, he comes through. A communications major, he is going to intern for me in the spring; we'll see what he's made of in the media world then for sure. I'm pretty confident he'll be fine.
Corey Hall is another young man who will graduate this spring with a degree in liberal studies. He's a native of the rough streets of Chicago's infamous South Side. He's the first to admit his journey to college hasn't been without plenty of bumps. But he's talented in many areas, including music. Although he hasn't had much formal training with instruments, he can pick one up and play almost anything by ear. He's great to have around hotel lobbies with a piano for sure. The day he stops referring to himself as "street trash" is the day he is going to accomplish something great. Confidence will come once he crosses that stage in June.
Stefon Johnson transferred into the program last season but had to sit out a year per NCAA transfer rules. He's been a solid contributor this season. He's a good player with potential to play at the next level overseas. He will leave here with a degree in sociology. He hit a few big shots this year, leading us to wins at Idaho State and UT Pan American. When the on court successes translate into professional-world opportunities, he too will come out on top.
Zach Lamb has been around for three seasons as well, although last year was cut short by injury. He's kid from a famous basketball family; his father played college ball and hit a game-winning shot in the NCAA Tournament. His brother Jeremy won a national championship at UConn and is currently playing in the NBA with the Oklahoma City Thunder. Zach was quick to realize his own NBA potential might be limited, but he's an extraordinary artist with design talent that led him to turn one of his cartoon characters into a full-fledged clothing line. Although the NCAA made him hold off on the formal launch of his "RORI" line of products, you'll be seeing them soon once his playing days are over. Zach already has his degree in art and will be a self-made businessman very shortly.
Then there's Issiah Grayson. He, too, has completed his degree in liberal studies and his taking some postgraduate work while he finishes his final season in Bakersfield. Grayson sat out last season to play this year for CSUB in our inaugural Western Athletic Conference season. He's been a force on the court and with his degree in hand has a backup plan if his basketball career doesn't continue as a professional. He's been away from his family in Atlanta for the last three years; his mother listens to every game on the Internet and even shared some of the struggles she's gone through while her son excelled in college. It wasn't easy for the Graysons, but his degree will be helpful very soon.
Finally there's Brandon Barnes, the son of head coach Rod Barnes. Brandon lost a year of eligibility when he elected to transfer from Lipscomb University and follow his family out west when his father was hired at CSUB. The NCAA hasn't been open to granting him another season, so he's treating 2014 like his last go-round in college basketball. Brandon is an opinionated young man who will spark up debates with people just for fun. He's even done that with strangers in the airport; I don't believe he's lost a debate yet.
With a degree in business he'll be a force wherever he ends up. Coming from a sports talk background I've encouraged him to go with that angle. He'd be a great addition to any cable sports channel looking for a knowledgeable basketball mind that loves to debate for ratings. Maybe he'll be coming to a TV screen near you, after he follows in his father's footsteps and tries his hand at coaching.
They're not just basketball player,s but young men who I know will make a difference in the coming years.
It's been a privilege, Class of 2014; now go do us proud.
COREY COSTELLOE, a Tehachapi High graduate, is Director of New Media and Broadcasting for California State University, Bakersfield.