Frater Heads to the NCAA Tournament

Frater Heads to the NCAA Tournament

LONG BEACH, Calif. - Long Beach State (24-7) is facing Tennessee in the first round of the N.C.A.A. tournament, but every time the 49ers take the floor, they are also battling the UCLA Bruins and the USC Trojans, trying to carve a niche in the saturated Los Angeles sports market. The game tips off Friday at 2:35pm in Columbus, Ohio.

During a sloppy bit of practice Monday, Coach Larry Reynolds called the players together at center court and uttered the one sentence that unfailingly gets their attention.

"This is going to be just like playing U.C.L.A. or S.C," he told them.

Long Beach State lost to the Bruins and the Trojans by a combined 48 points this season, but the team has barely broken stride since. Vastly undersized and questionable defensively, the 49ers run and gun at a furious pace. They are one of the few teams in the tournament field that like to play as fast as Tennessee.

In the Big West Conference championship game against Cal Poly, Long Beach State scored 19 points in the first three and a half minutes of the second half, a stunning exhibition that helped secure it a No. 12 seed in the South Region.

Working against a full-court press at practice Monday, guard Donovan Morris shouted out the 49ers' offensive approach: "Once we get past half-court, it's a wrap."

Long Beach State brings entertainment value to the tournament, not just because of its style, but also its material. Frater Travon Free, Center, of Delta-Theta Chapter (Long Beach State) is a comedian who has performed at the Laugh Factory in Hollywood and the Ice House Comedy Club in Pasadena. His influences are Dave Chappelle and Jay Leno, not Shaquille O'Neal and Yao Ming.

When the 49ers are dragging before practice or pouting over a halftime deficit, they ask Free (Frater Travon) to crack them up in the locker room. "That's not an easy thing to do," Free said. "But I always try to have some jokes ready for them." Usually, he lets the coach interrupt his routine with any important game planning. Reynolds is in a difficult position these days, leading a team into the tournament with a contract that expires the moment he loses his next game. Reynolds still has no idea if he will be back next season.

Long Beach State is probably more famous for coaches than it is for players. Jerry Tarkanian logged five years here, posting a record of 122-20. Lute Olson was here one season, going 24-2.

Seth Greenberg was 105-70, with one radical uniform change. Under Greenberg in the mid-1990s, Long Beach State wore jerseys emblazoned only with the team's nickname - "The Beach." Those jerseys are gone, but the nickname is still painted at center court and hangs from a banner atop The Pyramid.

The Long Beach State brand will be tested again this summer. The 49ers have nine seniors, so they must replenish the roster. As usual, the local high schools are loaded, and college powers from around the country are trying to pick them off.

"I hate seeing those guys go to Duke and North Carolina," Free said, adopting a serious tone. "What we have to do is keep Coach Reynolds and convince one of those big-time players - like Afflalo or Pruitt - to stay home and really turn it around.

"Then we'll get Snoop."

Adapted from New York Times Online Article Published 03/14/07. If you would like to see your chapter news here, contact Communications Coordinator Tom McAninch.

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