Sactown comeback: Sac State basketball player is back at home

Hornets guard Christian Terrell is thriving in his return to Sacramento


Sara Nevis

Senior guard Christian Terrell dribbles the ball for a photo before practice at the Nest at Sacramento State Monday, March 1, 2021. Terrell finished the season with 11.9 points per game.

Jordan Latimore

When Sacramento State senior guard Christian Terrell was presented with an opportunity to play in his backyard after spending three years at UC Santa Barbara, the decision of where he would land coming out of the transfer portal became very easy. 

“When Sac State called me, [they] told me the parameters of what I’d have to do to be on the team,” Terrell said. “I was just like, ‘I’ll take it.’” 

Raised in Sacramento, California, Terrell played against some of the toughest high school talent in the northern California region. 

Facing the likes of basketball talent that eventually went on to become semi-pros and G League players only prepared Terrell in his quest to fulfill his hooping ambitions.

Coming out of Sacramento High School, Terrell was ranked a top 60 prospect in the state of California by ESPN with collegiate interest from the likes of Gonzaga, USC, UC Santa Barbara, and his hometown school, Sac State.

RELATED: From the backyard to the Nest: Sac State men’s basketball embraces local ties

Terrell always knew his connection between himself and hooping was special, even before he could walk or talk. 

“It started from birth, my dad put a basketball in my crib and he said I would just never let go,” Terrell said. 

Despite garnering attention from his backyard school, Terrell was looking to leave the 916 and aspire for something outside of what he knew. That’s what led him to commit to UC Santa Barbara.

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“I really wanted to get out of Sacramento, not just because I didn’t like it here, but I grew up here,” Terrell said.  “It’s something that I’m used to, it’s the norm for me.” 

Sac State Head Coach Brian Katz said that he knew firmly that Terrell initially had his eyes set elsewhere.

“We were recruiting early on, I’ll just say a lot of people got involved and we were clear that we weren’t in (it),” Katz said.

Coming out of Sacramento High School, Terrell said he lacked the maturity that was expected out of highly touted recruits such as him, and Sac State recognized this during their initial recruitment. 

“Coach Katz was real early in my recruitment, but I wouldn’t say it’s because of his choices, it was kind of mine,” Terrell said. “I remember coming to the team camp that the team hosts over the summer and my attitude wasn’t the best. I think I got a tech almost every game maybe.”

Terrell said his decision to leave Sacramento for UC Santa Barbara was met with some dispute and difference of opinion within his inner circle, but was ultimately treated with love and support by the closest around him. 

Terrell’s parents Erika and James, both had their own separate college choice that they believed their son would fit with, but neither of those picks came to fruition.

“I thought Gonzaga would fit him perfectly but I didn’t push him to make [a decision],” said James Terrell. “It’s his decision to make, you’ve got to live with that for four years.”

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Sara Nevis

Christian’s freshman year at UCSB was not something he expected out of his first collegiate season. Despite seeing decent minutes, the team underperformed.

“We won six games, it was a brutal season in and out,” Terrell said. “We were unsure if [their head coach] would be returning next year and it was just kind of a shock for me because I had these high expectations for myself.”

The rest of Terrell’s tenure at UCSB did not at all play in his favor. Every season following his freshman year he saw a decline in minutes, eventually after starting in 17 games his freshman season, Terrell didn’t start in a single game his junior year.

The lack of minutes combined with his recruiting coach leaving for another program ultimately led to Terrell feeling underutilized and frustrated at UCSB. For Terrell, leaving his home of Sacramento was a risk he thought would pay off.

“It weighed so heavy on myself,” Terrell said. “I can remember countless nights being up, wondering, why am I doing this? Why isn’t this happening for me? Am I good enough to even play division I basketball?”

Terrell had reached his breaking point and realized that a change was needed. In a game during his junior year against the University of San Francisco, with his parents in the stands, Terrell didn’t see the floor at all after spending his entire summer away from home in preparation for the season.

“I kinda just went up to my dad and I was like, I think this is just going to be the same as it was last year,” Terrell said. “Right after the game, I went up to my coach and I was like, ‘Hey, coach, I think I want to transfer.’”

Terrell made his decision and at the end of his junior season, he officially entered the NCAA transfer portal, and Katz was honed in on securing his services from the jump.

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“We immediately wanted to talk to him and just find out where he was, you know, mentally,” Katz said. “What were his expectations, his goals, what was he trying to do?”

After considering every option, including the possibility of going to a Division II school, Terrell ultimately realized a chance to run it back in his hometown was too good to pass up. With that in mind, he decided to transfer to Sac State, having to sit out a year due to NCAA rules pertaining transferring from one Division I school to another.

For Terrell, coming off his junior season where he only played 10 minutes per game, a red shirt season was something he absolutely dreaded initially.

“I prepped him as much as I could, telling them all this was going to be the longest year of your life,” James Terrell said. “You have to practice and then you have to go to home games and, and watch, you know, people play and you can’t do nothing about it.”

You have to continuously work hard and, grind and it’s going to be hell, but the rewards at the end of it is going to be tremendous.”

— Christian Terrell

Though Terrell wasn’t playing in his first season as a Hornet, his impact was felt by the team. 

“It’s gotta be hard, you know, watching us play, not being able to get on the games, but being there for practice,” senior guard William Fitzpatrick said. 

Fitzpatrick said despite that challenge Terrell brought his best effort to practice every day.

“Competing against him in practice, he got us ready,” Fitzpatrick said. “Athletic, speed, smart player, every aspect really helped us last year.”

In his senior season, Terrell came out with something to prove. In the 2020-2021 season, he improved his scoring from his junior season by a margin of 10 points and averaged close to two assists per game while starting in every game he played for the Hornets in his senior season.

“We knew he was a very good passer, could play and really play all four positions,” Katz said.

“We had a clear vision in our mind of how he would be good for us. We felt that other [schools], they didn’t know him, and as a result they had different expectations.”

Terrell found success in Sacramento and now realizes what it took to achieve his goals.

“My biggest overall lesson I’ve taken away from my whole experience in college is to stay true to yourself,” Terrell said. “You have to continuously work hard and, grind and it’s going to be hell, but the rewards at the end of it is going to be tremendous.”