Cal State Fullerton’s Damari Milstead seizes the opportunity and finds a winning role – Orange County Register

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  • Cal State Fullerton guard Damari Milstead handles the ball as Long Beach State guard Joel Murray defends during Saturday night’s Big West Tournament title game in Henderson, Nevada (Photo courtesy of Big West Conference)

  • Cal State Fullerton guard Damari Milstead, left, drives past UC Irvine center Emmanuel Tshimanga, right, during a Big West Conference game earlier this season at Cal State Fullerton. (Photo by Paul Rodriguez, collaborating photographer)

  • Cal State Fullerton guard Damari Milstead shoots as Long Beach State forward Jordan Roberts defends during the second half of Saturday night’s Big West Tournament title game in Henderson, Nev. (AP Photo/Ronda Churchill)

  • Cal State Fullerton guard Damari Milstead, right, shields the ball from UCI guard Ofure Ujadughele, left, during a Big West Conference game Thursday night at the Bren Events Center. (Photo by Paul Rodriguez, collaborating photographer)

  • Cal State Fullerton guard Damari Milstead, right, pumps his fist after their Big West Conference win over UC Irvine Thursday night at the Bren Events Center. (Photo by Paul Rodriguez, collaborating photographer)

  • Cal State Fullerton’s Damari Milstead handles the ball during their Big West Tournament quarterfinal against UC Davis on Thursday night in Henderson, Nev. Milstead had a game-high 24 points and was 5 for 6 on 3 in the second seed titan series. Victory 73-55. (Photo courtesy of Big West Conference)

  • Cal State Fullerton’s Damari Milstead drives to the basket past Long Beach State’s Jadon Jones, right, during the second half of their Big West Conference game earlier this season at LBSU’s Walter Pyramid. (Photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/SCNG)

  • Cal State Fullerton guard Damari Milstead goes up for a shot during a game against UC San Diego earlier this season at Titan Gym. Milstead had a team-high 20 points in an 83-80 victory. (Photo by Devyn Billingsley, Cal State Fullerton Athletics)

  • Cal State Fullerton’s Damari Milstead handles the ball during a Big West Conference game against UC Santa Barbara earlier this season at Titan Gym. Milstead had 21 points, six rebounds and six assists in the Titans’ 79-73 victory. (Photo by Devyn Billingsley, Cal State Fullerton Athletics)

  • Cal State Fullerton’s Damari Milstead handles the ball during their Big West Tournament semifinal against Hawaii on Friday night in Henderson, Nevada. The primary point guard helped bring the Titans back to the NCAA Tournament. (Photo courtesy of Big West Conference)

  • Cal State Fullerton’s Damari Milstead (11) celebrates with teammates after defeating Long Beach State in Saturday night’s Big West Tournament title game in Henderson, Nev. Fullerton is heading to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2018. ( Photo courtesy of Big West Conference)

  • Cal State Fullerton’s EJ Anosike, left, and Damari Milstead, right, show off their All-Tournament team gear after defeating Long Beach State in Saturday night’s Big West Tournament title game in Henderson, Nev. Fullerton heads to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2018. (Photo courtesy of Big West Conference)

FULLERTON — For much of Damari Milstead’s basketball career, Cal State Fullerton’s primary point guard heard good things about his abilities.

He is a good field manager, a very good passer, an exceptional defender and a wise student of the game.

Good shooter? Not really.

It didn’t matter that he averaged 19.4 points per game as a three-time CIF title winner at Moreau Catholic High School in Hayward. He averaged 10.3 points at Grand Canyon University as a sophomore in 2019.

The first thing his new coach at Cal State Fullerton, Dedrique Taylor, said after Milstead was transferred from San Francisco, where his playing time was shrinking, was to forget what anyone else had said to about his shooting. Opportunity is everything.

“You don’t win 21 games by accident,” Taylor said.

And Milstead was the all-season leader for the 15th-seeded Titans (21-10), who won the Big West Tournament title and will face No. 2 seed Duke (28-6) in an NCAA West Region tournament opener on Friday. at 4:10 p.m. PT in Greenville, South Carolina.

On the eve of the conference game, Taylor took Milstead aside and said he needed to forget about all that and do the things that Taylor and Fullerton’s coaches thought he could. Which included shooting the ball when the opportunity arose.

And just like that… Milstead scored 17 points in the Titans’ Big West opener. It was in double digits for six straight games. After a break during a tough four-game streak, Milstead has scored 17, 18, 26, 24, 18 and 17 points in six of the last seven games.

“His leadership and experience has been a big part of our success,” Taylor said of Milstead. “He understood what kind of team we were when he arrived. He was nothing less than the best true playmaker in the league.

“He was the coach I needed in my life,” Milstead said. “He gave me a lot of confidence from the start, first by developing me in every game.

“He told me that it didn’t matter what other people said, that I just had to have confidence in that part of my game. And that taught me that you can create offense against defense, that which is our game, and you can find shots if we all work together.

Milstead, like most college players, doesn’t want his career to end after college. The season he’s had – 12.1 points per game, 43% total shooting and 38% 3-point range, 3.1 rebounds per game and his assists and steals – will likely give him that opportunity.

Twenty-four of Taylor’s players have played professionally and the coach has connections around the world.

“I don’t think I’ll ever make a better decision in my life,” Milstead said.

He and his teammates aren’t at all fazed to face one of the bluest programs in college basketball on Friday. One of the most notable traits Taylor has created at Fullerton is the belief in his players to compete every night and not be discouraged in the face of adversity.

“Long Beach State did a lot to upset us in the first half,” Milstead said of Saturday’s Big West title game. “But what makes us a team is that we always feel confident even when we’re going through a bad patch.

“He reminded us that defense wins championships and defense is the best part of our game. It’s part of our reputation.

And a reminder that what others say about you is never part of that reputation.


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