Take your top two players out of the lineup with injuries, have a promising freshman miss most of nine games in the middle of the season — and along the way you have to regroup three times, including once in the middle of your conference basketball schedule …
And on it went for the UC Davis men last year. The result? A 9-22 record, a dead-last Big West finish and no invitation to the league’s postseason tournament.
If all this was a nightmare for Aggie fans, imagine the travails suffered by team members.
“When all is said and done, last year will be an asterisk: it will be seen as an anomaly,” UCD coach Jim Les told me this week.
Back is J.T. Adenrele, the brilliant junior forward who missed 2013-14 with a knee injury. Healthy is middle man Josh Ritchart — a guy who averaged 17.3 ppg through nine games before being shut down thanks to a lower-leg stress fracture.
Brynton Lemar, victim of a practice collision halfway through the Big West slate, is rolling in early workouts.
Senior guard Tyler Les (you-know-who’s kid) returns after redshirting.
City College of San Francisco transfer Josh Fox (a 6-foot-8 forward), Neal Monson (Salt Lake CC) and former Butler freshman Nolan Berry (two 6-10 board-sweepers) all are now in the fold.
Ohio prep sensation Isaiah Walton (Elyria High) has added perimeter depth.
Oh, yeah … There’s also two-time All-Big West selection Corey Hawkins.
When all was falling apart last season, it was Hawkins’ leadership that kept the wheels on. While the losses piled up, now-senior Hawkins was the guy to lean on — the morale compass and inspiration (if there is such a thing in a nine-win season).
And there’s more veteran talent on a team that will have quality depth at every position …
Sacramento High grad Darius Graham, swingman Avery Johnson, the entertaining Bulgarian forward Georgi Funtarov and San Jose native Justin Dueck all started at some point in 2013-14 — and Funtarov, Graham and Johnson often were go-to guys.
“Everybody’s doing well,” Les said after a recent workout. “All the guys are 100 percent and working hard. I’m really excited about this group.
“What I’m really proud of — and you can deal with adversity in a lot of different ways — is this group went through a ton of it last year. To date I’m pleased with how everybody has handled that adversity.”
The former Bradley player, head coach and NBA journeyman is entering his fourth season at UCD. He once told me that at Division I, it’s a five-year undertaking to take a flagging program and get it running on all cylinders.
It’s a little tougher when your building blocks collapse halfway through the stacking.
However, Aggie Nation can expect things to be back on track when UCD opens at The Pavilion against Holy Names on Nov. 16.
“The work ethic, the mentality, attitude, energy and enthusiasm … They’ve attacked the spring workouts, and now the summer. It tells me they’ve turned that adversity into a real positive.”
Les adds: “Josh, J.T. and Brynton have worked really hard to not only get healthy, but to get better.”
One absolute about this basketball season? The Aggie men will be at the Big West Tournament in March.
And who knows, maybe there’s a card to fill out for The Big Dance.
While I Have You Here: One guy missing from the UCD hardcourt roster — Clint Bozner — can be found wearing football pads at Aggie Stadium.
The personable big man would have been one of a zillion paint patrollers on the Aggies (after a year in which Bozner was asked to start toward the end of the season).
In football, Bozner has been thrown into a trial by fire at tight end. Originally one of six TEs in camp and learning a new game, teammates’ bumps and bruises pared his position down to two healthy bodies earlier this week, so Bozner was getting a ton of snaps.
“It’s a different set of muscles,” Bozner said while dragging himself to the locker room on Tuesday. “I’m OK. This has been fun.”
— Bruce Gallaudet is a staff writer for The Davis Enterprise. Reach him at [email protected] or 530-320-4456.