Fullerton coach Dedrique Taylor will handle the ‘pressure’ of facing Purdue just fine

Cal State Fullerton men's basketball coach coach Dedrique Taylor cuts the net after his team defeated UC Irvine in a recent game for the Big West men's tournament championship in Anaheim, Calif. (By The Associated Press)

With all due respect to the Purdue men’s basketball program, Cal State Fullerton coach Dedrique Taylor is certainly going to give the Boilermakers their due in Friday’s match-up to open the NCAA Tournament for both teams, but he probably isn’t going to stress over the mammoth challenge of upsetting one of the nation’s best and most experienced college basketball teams.

If Taylor hasn’t gotten worked up over his current professional situation, then figuring out how to defend Purdue’s balanced offensive attack probably isn’t going to keep him awake at night either.

The Titans (20-11) will face the Boilermakers (28-6) at the Little Caesar’s Arena in Detroit at 12:40 p.m. (TruTv) and after what Taylor has dealt with over the past five seasons, win or lose, he’ll probably be fine moving forward.

“(We have) to attach ourselves mentally to something very, very simple and just do that,” Taylor said recently on preparing for the NCAA Tournament. “And once you get into a rhythm, add one thing to it and continue to expand, and over the course of the game you will like where you are.”

Or in his case, the course of a career.

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Taylor returned home to lead the Fullerton program five years ago after a meandering journey through five different coaching stops and 13 seasons, and just like his career up to that point, he and success didn’t find each other easily.

“It has been surreal,” Taylor said. “When I interviewed, I told them I felt that this job was my destiny. This job had my name on it for so many different reasons. I’m from here, a bunch of my friends and family are alumni, and I just felt like it was the right time and I was the right guy. They believed that.”

That belief was tested, but eventually has been rewarded.

The Titans finished 11-20 (6-10 in the Big West Conference) that first season under Taylor, but there were glimpses of hope that perhaps better days were coming.

Taylor had the league’s Newcomer of the Year (Michael Williams), as well as the Freshman of the Year (Khalil Ahmad) following his first season, and a year later, he traversed nearly 3,000 miles to land a guard (New York native Kyle Allman, Jr.), who has become one of, if not the best, player in the conference.

“You have to admire their work ethic,” Taylor said of Allman, Jr. and Ahmad after the pair helped the Titans to the recent Big West Tournament title, “because just three years ago those two guys were logging a lot of minutes because our program was depleted. We had so much adversity with injuries, off the court issues, and those guys stayed the course. Their maturity, and most significantly, their work ethic were ramped up every summer, every spring.”

But that diligence wasn’t immediately being rewarded for either the players or Taylor.

Fullerton won just 19 games over the next two seasons (including a meager four in league play), before a breakthrough a year ago.

Last season, the Titans won 17 games (10 in the league) and finally, there was tangible evidence that this thing might work after all.

Entering his fifth and final year on his original deal, the pressure was on Taylor, as well as everyone within the Fullerton program, but the coach never let it faze him.

“It was a contract year for me,” Taylor said, “but I never felt the pressure. I just knew every day that I was blessed to open my eyes and that there was work that had to be done. So every day I grabbed my lunch pail and my hard-hat and I went to work. Soon everyone bought in.

“We all knew we had enough talent, but we were missing some intangibles like work ethic and maturity.”

The Titans aren’t missing those things anymore.

Fullerton has won 20 games in the Big West (37 total) over the past two seasons and now have reached the pinnacle for a program in its position and will play on a national stage Friday.

“It goes back to a sense of validation for that committee that hired me,” Taylor said, “because that day means so much to me. It is etched in my memory.

“For us to able to sit here, as Big West tournament champs, and going to the NCAA Tournament, leaves me speechless.”

Speechless, but not pressured.

For more on college basketball, follow Tom Davis on Twitter at Tom101010 and on Facebook at Thomas Davis.