By Matt Schwab
Small College Sports Columnist
The Cal State East Bay men's basketball team made a pretty convincing opening statement last week.
The upstart Pioneers began California Collegiate Athletic Association play with come-from-behind home wins over Sonoma State (89-85) and previously unbeaten Humboldt State (88-82).
Not bad for a Pioneers team picked to finish last in the CCAA preseason coaches poll after going 2-22 in conference last season.
The Pioneers (4-2, 2-0 CCAA) are off to their best start since 2005-06. They're 4-0 at home. Senior guard Roshun Wynne, an Oakland native, epitomized the Pioneers' resilience against Humboldt State.
After a Lumberjacks player rolled on Wynne's ankle with 12 minutes left in the second half, Wynne winced in pain and found the nearest seat he could find -- in the bleachers with the spectators.
He made his way to the Pioneers bench with a sprained ankle before opting to tough it out.
"I told the trainer, 'I'm not going to let us lose this game. I'll just get some ice afterwards,'" Wynne recalled. "I walked over to the coach from the bench and said I was ready."
Ready indeed. Wynne finished with nine points and 11 rebounds, including making a clutch 3-pointer to put the Pioneers ahead, 58-57. The previous night, Wynne and Berkeley's Mark Samuels led the Pioneers with 24 points apiece against Sonoma State as they overcame a 13-point deficit to prevail.
Clearly the preseason coaches poll gave the Pioneers ample motivation.
"We looked at it as a slap in the face," said Wynne, the CCAA Player of the Week after averaging 16.5 points, six rebounds and two steals in the two wins. "Nobody in this conference has worked as hard as we have as far over the preseason and the offseason."
He said that the wins allowed "team chemistry" to improve after back-to-back losses to Western Oregon (73-71) and St. Martin's (73-69) in the Western Oregon Division II Shootout.
"For us to bounce back like that, it was a great booster," said Wynne, who graduated from Monte Vista High in Spring Valley.
The Cal State East Bay roster has some extra East Bay flavor this season. In addition to Wynne and Samuels, the Pioneers have freshman Jacari Whitfield (St. Joseph Notre Dame), sophomore Kenneth Farr II (Salesian), junior Nick Marshall (Las Positas) and junior Jurrell Turner (Hayward, Wiley College).