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  • PAUL KITAGAKI JR. / pkitagaki@sacbee.com

    Coach Brian Katz has Sacramento State within a win of tying the program's Division I-era record for victories in a season.

  • Joe Davidson

Hometown Report: Katz might have Sac State hoops near a turning point

Published: Tuesday, Mar. 5, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 1C
Last Modified: Monday, Mar. 11, 2013 - 6:28 am

He's still the same man.

The hearty handshake, the passionate narratives on players past and present, and embracing a plan. That's the Brian Katz package.

The first time meeting Katz was in 1988 when he was coaching Center High School. In a short time, he elevated the new school into a regional basketball power. Now in his fifth season at Sacramento State, Katz sports a bit more gray, and the look of fatigue can be tied to his unshakable habit of getting up every morning at 4 in his quest to build the Hornets, who are on the cusp of history.

Sac State (14-13) is a win from tying the program's Division I-era (since 1991) record for victories in a season.

"We're so close," Katz said of becoming a good program at a school known for losing.

And Katz's good cheer masks some of the misery he has endured at Sac State.

Losing scars coaches. The Hornets have trotted out a wounded lot of coaches through the decades. Since the program's inception in 1948, none of the previous 12 coaches left with a winning record.

Katz is 42-100, seemingly always in an uphill climb to foster momentum. He has agonized over every setback, including four one-point losses this season.

"Oh, this job can reward you, humble you and punish you," Katz said Monday. "When I first took this job, people told me, 'You're crazy. It's the worst Division I job in the country.' And that's the beauty of it. You make something of it at a great school in a great city. I have no regrets."

Sac State isn't the worst gig, but it doesn't help the Hornets to have the most meager facilities. For all its charm, the 1,200-seat Nest is light years from a D-I look or feel. It's completely inadequate, but Katz never wavers. He works with what he has. Dick Vitale is not going to walk through those doors.

"This is my world: We have a great group; we're a win away from something special," Katz said. "People want to talk about the lack of an arena, and it's fair, but we are who we are. Our mantra is, 'We have two rims, one ball. Who's the better team? No excuses.' I'll tell a recruit on the phone that if the gym is an issue, we can get off the phone."

Katz also feels the vibes that the Hornets don't recruit Sacramento nearly hard enough. Not so. Katz has every name player in the region on his radar.

He landed a sleeper last year in Cody Demps, a 6-foot-4 guard from Pleasant Grove in Elk Grove. He is the team's sixth man as a freshman and an honors student majoring in engineering. Area blue chippers generally leave town, in all sports, and that's why Sac State's roster includes players from Southern California.

"Sacramento basketball has become so good, and I don't want to say it's become too good for us, but the best players are going to go to the high-major programs," Katz said.

"I understand that. We still want to evaluate all of the local players. We want high-major players, too. But how many high-major guys turn down a high-major for a mid-major? Never."

With perhaps one exception. The region's top center is Eric Stuteville of Casa Roble, Katz's alma mater.

The 6-10 Stuteville said he will attend Sac State on scholarship because he wants to share Katz's vision and wants to study kinesiology.

"I love coach Katz, I really fit there, and for some guys, a (mid-major) is the right place," Stuteville said.

Said Katz, "I can't begin to tell you how fortunate we feel to have him, the biggest sleeper on the West Coast. I'm not going to tell you that he's Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, but he's really, really good."

Stuteville is one of the rewards Katz was talking about. Katz guided state-ranked teams at San Joaquin Delta College in Stockton over 15 seasons, averaging 23 wins a year.

Now another great reward looms: a Big Sky Conference tournament invite.

With two games left, the Hornets are 8-10 in conference and jockeying with five other teams for the final four spots in the seven-team tournament.

"You've got to really enjoy doing this, because at this level, it's fierce," Katz said. "I'm more into this now than ever. Can't wait to get to work. I get up every day at 4, whether it's Sunday or Thanksgiving, or Saturday in July because I'm ready to go."

Follow on Twitter: @SacBee_JoeD and on podcast: ESPN1320.net

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