Bears host Long Beach State to open NIT play

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Posted: Wednesday, March 20, 2013 12:01 am

When Baylor coach Scott Drew heard his team would face Long Beach State in the National Invitation Tournament, he began picking Gary Franklin’s brain.

The Bears’ junior guard teamed with Long Beach State players Keala King and Tyler Lamb to help Mater Dei High School win the California Interscholastic Federation state championship in 2010.

Franklin has played pickup basketball against several of the 49ers players, so he’s very familiar with their roster.

“I think they want to have bragging rights as much as I do,” Franklin said. “I’ll be home this summer, and I don’t want to hear anything from them. So I know they’re going to be playing really hard, and I’m going to be playing really hard as well.”

The No. 2 seed Bears will face the No. 7 seed 49ers in the opening round of the NIT at 8 p.m. Wednesday at the Ferrell Center in a game that will be televised on ESPN2.

Franklin is especially looking forward to playing against King since they’ve known each other since

grade school. King is a starting guard for the 49ers who is averaging 9.7 points and five rebounds, while Franklin is Baylor’s third most productive 3-pointer shooter by making 30 in 32 games.

They starred in the backcourt together at Mater Dei High School, which is located in Santa Ana, Calif., about 15 minutes south of the Long Beach State campus.

“He’s one of my best friends who will probably be one of my groomsmen in my wedding whenever that is,” Franklin said. “We texted each other and then over Instagram he put a picture up of him and me saying that we’re going to be battling Wednesday night. So I think he’s pretty excited as well.”

Ironically, Franklin, King and Lamb all began their college careers at Pac-12 schools. Franklin played for one semester at California before transferring to Baylor in 2011 while King played 1½ seasons at Arizona State before transferring to Long Beach State. Lamb played two-plus seasons at UCLA before shifting to Long Beach in January, and is redshirting this semester.

After hearing Franklin’s scouting report and watching film of Long Beach State, Drew realizes his team needs to get ready for an athletic team that likes to push the ball up the floor under veteran coach Dan Monson.

“I think people like playing for him because they get up and down,” Drew said “They like to get out in transition. Players are able to make plays. It should be an exciting game for fans to watch.”

Following last year’s NCAA tournament appearance, the 49ers won the Big West regular season title with a 14-4 record before losing to UC Irvine in the second round of the conference tournament.

Long Beach State (19-13) is led by senior forward James Ennis who is averaging 16.7 points and 6.9 rebounds. Sophomore guard Mike Caffey is averaging 12.3 points and 3.8 assists while junior forward Tony Freeland is averaging 11 points and five rebounds after transferring from DePaul.

“Last year, I know they really made a name for themselves with some of their big wins, and their players were in the national spotlight,” Drew said. “This year it’s the same thing. They’re an athletic team with a lot of transfers. Anyone that won their conference is a good team.”

The Bears (18-14) were passed over for the NCAA tournament following their 74-72 loss to Oklahoma State in the Big 12 tournament quarterfinals last week in Kansas City.

But they relish the opportunity to play a postseason game at the Ferrell Center. This is Baylor’s fifth trip to the NIT but only the second home game. In 2009, the Bears opened the NIT with a 74-72 win over Georgetown at the Ferrell Center that began a four-game winning streak to advance to the championship game in New York.

After losing to Penn State in the NIT finals four years ago, the Bears hope to win it this year. The Baylor-Long Beach State winner will play a second-round matchup against the winner of Wednesday night’s game between No. 3 seed Arizona State and No. 6 Detroit.

“I feel like we still belong in the Big Dance,” Baylor senior guard Pierre Jackson said. “But at the same time, it (the NIT) is not a bad place to play. We’ve probably got a chance to play in Madison Square Garden. I’ve never been to New York, so that would good for the team. We’ve still got a lot of basketball to show everybody that we’re good.”

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