This will be a long season for Tiger fans. No matter how optimistic some fans are, it will be a painfully long season. The only way this season can bring joy to its beloved fans will be if Pacific can do the unthinkable.
Imagine what went through John Lennon’s mind when he wrote his famous song, and now imagine what went through coach Bob Thomason’s mind when he heard the news.
Steffan Johnson would have been a preseason All-Conference player, picked by the coaches, joining power forward Anthony Brown. Brown and Johnson were All-Big West Freshman Team performers ready to follow in the steps and success of recent Big West Player of the years Christian Maraker, David Doubly, and Miah Davis. Pacific again would dominate like it did in 2003 through 2006, the Maraker years.
Imagine the idea of even being able to compare the 2008 Tigers to the Maraker years. Imagine arguing that Johnson was more valuable to his 2008 team than Doubly or Davis or Johnny Gray of those great Pacific teams. Imagine arguing that Mike Nunnley has as much athleticism as the colossal French center Guillaume Yango.
Imagine putting Michael Kirby in the same sentence as Mike Webb, Tyler Newton, Matt Kemper, and Myree Bowden, as great role players who gave the second unit much punch of the bench. Imagine the blasphemy of arguing Brown finally is as good as Maraker.
The Pacific Tigers will be without Johnson, Nunnley, and Kirby. There are many stories and reasons to what really happened that fateful night. In the end, none of the players will be in uniform for the Tigers in 2008.
These three players took away a real chance to relive the Maraker years. Imagine would could have been? Imagine if alcohol was not present that night and everyone went home in time to catch the 10 o’clock news.
No matter how the Tigers do in 2008, the back of the mind will always wonder what could have been with Johnson, Nunnley, and Kirby.
The 2008 Tigers' starting lineup would have been Nunnley, Brown, Joe “Lazarus” Ford, Chad Troyer, and Johnson. The bench would be quite deep, led by Kirby and Brian LeDuc. Junior transfer Lavar Neufville would have a year to learn the system and replace Johnson’s role in 2009.
Add two promising sophomores to the mix, and the bench would have plenty of time to mature with Kirby and LeDuc taking much pressure off the youngsters.
Instead, sophomores Sam Willard and Terrell Smith are thrown in the starting lineup, and Neufville is asked to bring much firepower off the bench. It takes a full year for shooters to adjust and build the proper confidence from junior college to Division I, as was the case for both Gray and Webb.
No doubt as upperclassmen Smith and Willard are going to put up great numbers, but they are not going to dominate anyone outside of Riverside in 2008. It will be a learning year for these two super sophomores, but now thanks to Johnson, Nunnley, and Kirby, it will be hands on.
Adding insult to injury quite literally, the Tigers have already been bit early in the season. Senior sharpshooter and captain Chad Troyer has had shoulder problems and missed the game against Bakersfield. Junior college transfer Royal Edwards is also hurt and might miss the year.
Without a healthy Troyer, the 2008 season will be devastating. When the streaky Troyer gets hot, the 2008 Tigers can hang with many teams in the nation. With Johnson, Nunnley, and Kirby, when Troyer gets hot, Pacific would beat most teams in the country.
You can make the argument this will be a rebuilding year for the Tigers, but that would be slapping Brown in the face. Brown has paid his dues and understands the golden years. In fact, Brown participated and saw Maraker’s greatness firsthand.
Besides, Joe Ford has made a miraculous comeback when the Tigers need him most. The inspiration of Ford's story and play could be enough to get the Tigers into the big dance. The importance of Ford showed in the Bakersfield game in which the poor shooting Tigers team barely squeaked out a win in overtime.
The Big West is weak, and Pacific is picked to finish third in both the media and coaches' preseason polls. Brown’s team will not be as good as any of Maraker's teams. Brown does not have the supporting cast Maraker had in the golden years.
But Brown might be able to sidestep Maraker’s shadow for 15 seconds and take his less talented team into March Madness, maybe even getting to the second round. In college basketball crazier things happen, like maybe one day reliving the Maraker years