The 2023-24 season is shaping up to be an exciting one for both the men’s and women’s basketball squads at CSUDH. Despite some struggles in their early pre-season schedule, Toro coaches and players are looking forward to a successful year both on and off the court.
Of course, the big story in Toro hoops last season was the CSUDH women’s team reaching the NCAA Elite Eight. The women ran up an astounding 31-3 record, at one point running off 19 consecutive victories. The Toros defeated California Collegiate Athletic Association (CCAA) rival Cal State San Marcos in the Sweet Sixteen before falling to Catawba College 77-70 in their Elite Eight debut.
“Last season was a very pleasant surprise for us,” says head coach John Bonner. “I knew we would be a competitive team but wouldn’t have predicted the run we went on! The culmination of great team chemistry, competitiveness, heart, and a little luck was all present last season.”
Bonner is hoping that despite losing several key players from last year’s tournament run (including NCAA All-American and CCAA Player of the Year Dawnyel Lair), the experience and confidence that the remaining players developed will continue to pay big dividends this season.
“The biggest lesson we learned last season is that in order to win, you need to have collective group of talented individuals committing to a common goal and even more to one another,” says Bonner. He thinks he has another such group this season.
“We really want to be the best version of ourselves,” Bonner continues. “Every year is a new team that establishes a new identity. We want to win, of course, but we want to do so with high character students that commit to doing the right things as people, in the classroom, and then on the court.”
Returning stars Asia Jordan and Nala Williams will be key contributors this season, and Bonner expects fellow returnees Joe’l Benoit, Danyell Booker, and Hosanna Walker to have significant roles with the team this year, as well. They will be joined by a recruiting class of first-year student-athletes and transfers that the coach has brought in.
“We tried to focus on bringing in players that fit our blue collar work ethic and demonstrated a passion for a campus like CSUDH,” Bonner says. “I think we found that in our recruits.”
As usual, the CCAA will be one of the strongest Division II conferences in the nation, and the Toros will have to be on top of their game to emerge victorious once again. “Every single team got better with who they brought in this season. If you want to find success, you will need to show up to compete at a high level, every game,” say Bonner.
“Success for us has always been doing all the right things, all the time, with high effort and character,” Bonner emphasizes. “We want to make sure that we are representatives of our families and our university in all of our actions. We also want to continue to raise the bar academically and to meet our GPA goal of 3.2 or higher. We want to ensure that we continue to follow our tradition of graduating all of our student athletes. Those are our priorities. We also want to work hard and give max effort on the court every game.”
For men’s head basketball coach Steve Becker, the 2022-23 season was one of both promise and frustration. The Toros fielded a competitive squad, but injuries, bad luck, and other factors conspired to hold them back.
“Last year we were in every game,” says Becker, “but for a variety of reasons, we weren’t able to get over the hump. We found success down the stretch and won four of our last six games. We actually played and won two games with just five and six healthy players—we literally had no subs.”
Going into the new season, Becker says his players have learned some vital lessons from last season’s star-crossed campaign. “We need to stay healthy and understand the every possession matters, he says. “With our league being so competitive, one or two games can make all the difference in terms of earning a postseason berth.”
Becker is pleased with his recruiting class this season, having brought in scoring, playmaking, and size at multiple positions. “I think the strength of this team is we have seven guys who are capable of scoring in doubling figures at any time,” he says. “We have a lot of weapons on this team, and I need to make sure the basketball moves on offense in a way that compliments all of our strengths.”
The coach has high hopes for this year’s squad. He hopes that the Toros finish atop the conference and earn an opportunity to play in the conference and NCAA tournaments. “I think the CCAA is more wide-open than in recent years. The top programs lost a majority of their top players and their coaches as well, so there are a lot of unknowns.”
Becker wants this year’s team to play fast, pushing the ball in transition and creating more scoring opportunities. The coach is excited about his team’s outside shooting and plans for them to be more aggressive from the three-point line than in previous seasons. “We want to be a team full of unselfish players who move the ball,” he says.
The coach’s goals for the season are to continue the Toro tradition of having high academic achievers (the team has had a cumulative GPA of 3.0 for five straight years), provide a championship-level experience for his players, and to compete for the conference championship and an NCAA tournament berth. Most importantly, Becker says, “We want to represent our university with class in everything we do.”
The CSUDH Toro women’s basketball team opens their home schedule at the Torodome on Wednesday, Nov. 15, against Concordia University Irvine; and Saturday, Nov. 18, against La Sierra University. Admission is free for students with Student ID.
The CSUDH Toro men’s basketball team opens their home schedule at the Torodome on Saturday, Nov. 18, against Fresno Pacific; and Wednesday, Nov. 22, against Concordia University Irvine. Admission is free for students with Student ID.