San Marcos,
08:29 AM

Building an Athletics Legacy for the Region

Jim Saia never planned on becoming the basketball coach at Cal State San Marcos. The longtime hoops tactician was leading a successful Fresno Pacific University squad—where he compiled a 70-29 record over three seasons—and was moonlighting in the summer of 2010 as a consultant with the Los Angeles Sparks of the WNBA when his life suddenly took a turn.

“I got a call from the athletic director at Cal State San Marcos while I was driving from Fresno to Los Angeles,” Saia recalled. “I had never heard of Cal State San Marcos before, but I drove down, took a look around and thought, `Wow, this is a great school with great people, and it would be great to start a program from the ground up.’”

Indeed, when Saia arrived in 2010 Cal State San Marcos didn’t even have a basketball program.

He has since built a powerhouse. The Cougars have won 30 or more games in back-to-back seasons, were voted No. 1 in National Association of Intercollegiate (NAIA) rankings 11 times and have made three consecutive trips to the NAIA National Championships tournament.

“He started from nothing and went out and found athletic players who were fun to watch,” said San Diego Union-Tribune sportswriter John Maffei. “He has really brought a lot to the university.”

Now Saia and the Cougars are taking the next step in their journey: the University this fall competes in its inaugural season at the NCAA Division II level. That comes after CSUSM earlier this year broke ground on a state-of-the-art, on-campus arena that will allow the Cougars to play its home games at home. Until now, `home’ games were played at MiraCosta College gym in Oceanside.