Thanks to a change in format and venue for the annual Thanksgiving weekend tournament held in Anaheim every year, Cal State Fullerton will have the chance to do something Big West programs rarely get to do.
The Titans will play a pair of major-conference teams in their own gym.
Since the Anaheim Classic typically drew only sparse crowds to the Anaheim Convention Center, tournament organizers have opted to move the opening two days of the eight-team tournament to more intimate 4,000-seat Titan Gym. The final day of tournament play will be held at the cavernous Honda Center, which is home to the NHL's Anaheim Ducks.
"It's a great opportunity for our program to play those types of programs on our home floor and to have our gym on TV in front of a national audience," new Cal State Fullerton coach Dedrique Taylor. "Anytime you can do that, it's the best exposure you can get. There's no dollar amount you can put on that. And also, it allows our fans to see some quality basketball in our gym and we have a chance to participate as well."
Cal State Fullerton can only participate in the same exempt tournament once every four years per NCAA rules, but the current plan is for the Titans to host the first two rounds of the event every year. They'll also participate in the 2013 tournament, which is headlined by the likes of Marquette, Creighton, San Diego State, Arizona State and Miami.
The chance to host an exempt tournament has been beneficial to small-conference teams in the past. Charleston finished third in the 2008 Charleston Classic and defeated Boston College in a consolation game last year. Hawaii upset Utah and Mississippi State in the 2010 Diamond Head Classic. And, of course, Division II Chaminade has pulled off some memorable upsets on its home floor in the Maui Invitational, most recently toppling Texas last year.
"Hopefully we can have some success this year," Taylor said. "It certainly will be nice to have those types of teams in our gym."
The new tournament will be known as the Wooden Legacy, making it essentially a fusion of the Anaheim Classic and the single-day Wooden Classic that has been held at Honda Center for the past two decades.
This is a clever decision by organizers since the Wooden Classic's single-day format made it difficult for the event to draw top-notch teams in recent years. The event took a one-year hiatus two years ago and has pitted UCLA against the likes of DePaul, Mississippi State and Davidson recently. By attaching John Wooden's name to the former Anaheim Classic, the event also guarantees the Bruins will participate once every four years, an addition that should help boost ticket sales and interest in Southern California.
Cal State Fullerton may not bring as large a crowd as UCLA would, but Taylor is hopeful his team can be competitive on its home floor next season. Though the three leading scorers from last year's 14-18 team have graduated, Taylor expects San Francisco transfer Michael Williams and Louisiana-Monroe transfer Steven McClellan to emerge as leaders for the Titans next year.
"We have some really good pieces," Taylor said. "If we can create the up-tempo style we're after and have great energy night-in and night-out, I like where we're at and I like our chances to immediately have an impact in the Big West Conference."