Kwame Vaughn and D.J. Seeley are much more than just teammates.
The two Cal State Fullerton guards are co-captains, roommates and workout partners.
One member of the Titans basketball staff joking described them as a married couple. Their only response was to look at one another and laugh because the two of them are just that close. The two practically finish each others sentences.
But within that relationship, there is an intense competition: video games. Seeley owns his roommate on a myriad of games, but it has yet to deter Vaughn from trying.
We even switched from PS3 to X-Box, Vaughn said. And I just cannot beat him.
He can beat me to the showers, Seeley laughed. But thats it. I beat him all the time.
With their relationship off the court, its not surprising that on the court their numbers are also exceptionally similar: Both are averaging 18.8 points per game and about 3.5 assists per game - point guard Vaughn has the edge with 3.6 while Seeley is at 3.4. Many of those assists have been to one another and their chemistry on the court has been obvious.
The duo has been the two most integral parts of a Fullerton offense that is currently the fifth-best in Division I.
I think their relationship off the court has given them trust, said Fullerton head coach Andy Newman. And the fact those two are leaders helps as well. It gets the other three guys (on the court) involved. If those other three guys are watching them kick, drive and penetrate to each other, then they better do it.
But Newman said its more important than just getting the other guys on the floor going for a few plays. Seeley and Vaughn, the only two returning starters from last seasons team, are helping to create a positive culture within the program - which is essential to a first-year head coach like Newman.
I think it helps not only with them but with our whole team and developing our team philosophy of being unselfish and playing together, Newman said. As a coach, you love that because your best players are buying in to what you want and what youre teaching.
In an increasingly frustrating season for the Titans, Seeley and Vaughn have a keen understanding of how their roles have increased. The season started off as a promising one, with the two of them returning as one of the top front courts in the Big West Conference and a back court that complimented their skills and brought a defensive identity to a traditionally guard-oriented offensive team.
But a slew of injuries, NCAA red tape and departures left the Titans running a five-guard set most of the time. Fullerton has so little front court depth they are forced to play a shooting guard at the post when Sammy Yeager, the only forward who has started all eight games, needs a break.
Its different because we pressure, and usually when you pressure youve got two bigs in there, Seeley said. We dont have that, so we have to assert more, because we have to pressure, shot block, block out and get the rebound.
The Titans are currently 3-5 and have lost three straight. Two of those losses were heart-breakers that came on a two-game swing in Washington. Cal State Fullerton had a seven-point lead at Eastern Washington only to break down late and eventually fall 79-75.
Two days later against a Washington team that many thought were overmatched for the struggling Titans, Fullerton jumped out to a 14-point lead until rebounds and late fouls opened the door for the Huskies. Alex Harris missed a buzzer-beater and Fullerton fell 74-72.
Newman then called upon Seeley and Vaughn to rally the team. While neither one shied away, they realized they needed to step up and be vocal in order to effectively communicate.
Its up to us at the end of the day; its our team, were the leaders, were the captains, Seeley said. Were still trying out how to be more of a vocal leader to get them fired up.
"But Ive never been a talker.
Its not in their nature to be loud and get in their teammates' faces. Both are somewhat soft-spoken, typically choosing an extra shootaround or study session instead of frat parties with their other two roommates.
Thats hard for both of them. Neither one of them are real outspoken and I wouldnt call them extroverts, Newman said. Both of them have a tremendous leadership influence over this team But it isnt something they asked for.
Its a learning process and part of their development as players. Until now, neither Vaughn nor Seeley has had to play the role of leader. But their strong bond is helping to lessen the learning curve.
The two have been together for three seasons after taking somewhat similar paths to Fullerton. The spotlight shone bright in their first college hoops season in the Bay Area before dimming significantly.
Seeley was a high school star coming out of Modesto Christian High. Rated one of the top prospects in the country, he committed to Ben Braun at nearby Cal. But before Seeley could ever suit up in a Golden Bear uniform, Braun was fired and accepted the head coaching position at Rice. Seeley changed his commitment to Rice but honored his initial commitment to Cal. It wasnt the match that he had hoped. His role was limited, he was considered a disappointment and was granted a release before finding his way to Fullerton.
Vaughn, an Oakland native, played two productive seasons across the Bay Bridge at San Francisco. But both ultimately realized that the technical systems they were playing in didnt fit their playing styles. Former CSF head coach Bob Burton ran a free, open offense, that they felt would fit their games better and the duo made their exits from the Bay Area.
It was during their redshirt seasons that they found solace in one another.
It helps too, not just to be alone in it, Vaughn said. Before, when we were alone we could just pray about it and God got us through. But now that were together, we can talk about it, help each other and be more positive about it.
Over these years its just made us stronger.
Newman, a former Burton assistant, has kept the same system as Burton. He prefers to foster the development of a players complete game instead of developing them as a specific piece within the system. That philosophy has given Seeley the chance he always wanted. Once pegged as just a slasher at Cal, Seeley is now one of the most complete players in the Big West. Vaughns point guard skills have been significantly refined and both are now strong contenders to win the Big West Player of the Year award.
Its hard to tell which side thats more exciting for, the player or the friend.
That would be big, but not just for me, for him too, Seeley said, point to Vaughn. He might be more happy than I would be.
Vaughn conceded, I would be happier for him than he would be.
Newman thinks that either one is capable of winning. But whats more exciting than all-conference accolades is the chance of winning a Big West Championship and a bid to the NCAA Tournament.
After all that they have endured throughout their collegiate careers, they feel that they have only one thing left to prove and thats leading their team to the college basketball promised land.
We just go out there with more fire to prove - said Vaughn, trailing off as his other half finished his sentence.
That we have a bigger chip on our shoulder, Seeley said. A lot of people didnt have to go through what we went through, they just breezed by. Were actually out there trying to get something.