North Gymnasium, where Fresno State practices, is a dank little cavern that hasn't been the site of any intercollegiate games since 1968. The Bulldogs play downtown in Selland Arena, which, because Fresno State is 74-9 there under Coach Boyd Grant, is commonly known as Grant's Tomb. But North Gym's dungeonlike qualities are perfect for what Grant teaches best—things like denial, closing down, pinching off, ball pressure. In a word, defense. Under Grant, Fresno State was maddeningly deliberate on offense from 1978-79 to 1981-82 and led the nation in defense three of those seasons. But last season, after a slow 13-9 start. Grant decided he finally had the athletes to convert all the turnovers his defense was creating into fast-break layups. Unchained, the Bulldogs turned into ravenous greyhounds. Fresno State went 12-1 the rest of the way and won the NIT.
"If you're really knowledgeable about basketball," Grant says. "you know how to stop things. And when you know how to stop things, you know how to do things. We started scoring better when we came together defensively."
The Bookend Forwards, Bernard Thompson and Ron Anderson (right), both of whom are now seniors, profited most from the new up-tempo style. Last season they scored 51% of Fresno's points. Thompson operates best inside, and Anderson made last season's PCAA 19-foot three-point distance seem absurd. In leading two victories against Oregon State at Corvallis last winter, Thompson and Anderson outplayed the Beavers' vaunted forward pair of Charlie Sitton and A.C. Green. Over the summer, they each put on about 20 pounds of muscle by weight-training together.
Playing between The Bookends will be junior Scott Barnes, who sat out last season after transferring from Eastern Montana College. At off-guard, senior Mitch Arnold can outdo even Anderson in long-range bombing.
Point guard is Grant's biggest concern. Last season that spot was owned by 5'9" dynamo Tyrone Bradley, who has graduated. Grant hopes junior college transfer Ron Strain will claim the position.
Fresno State has proven many times that pressure games are usually won with defense. And this season the Bulldogs know what to do with the ball on offense.