The UC Davis men’s basketball team — markedly improved last season — has started practicing in earnest, hoping to take its entertaining run-and-shoot, three-guard offense to the next level.
As spirited workouts began this week, The Enterprise checked in with third-year coach Jim Les for an update on the Aggies.
“This was a good, productive summer,” says the former Bradley coach and player and one-time Sacramento King. “We have a lot of returning guys who have a good understanding of what we have to do to be successful.”
Coming off a season that saw UCD improve 10 games in the win column (14-17, 9-9 in Big West Conference), Les welcomed back All-Everything Corey Hawkins and his dead-eye perimeter-mates Ryan Sypkens and Tyler Les.
Back, too, are sophomore Olivier-Paul Betu, redshirt freshman Darius Graham, senior swingman Josh Ritchart, USF transfer Avery Johnson, forwards Izzy Nujic and Clint Bozner (both juniors) and sophomore forward Justin Dueck.
“We want to continue on this path (increasing wins by the handful),” Les says. “We’ve gone from four (wins) to 14. Now the challenge that I’m putting on this group of guys is that next jump. … From 14 into that 20-whatever range is the biggest, toughest, most challenging jump.
“That’s where we want to go. There’s no question we’re going to be an entertaining team to watch; a team that plays extremely hard, but now the results have to be there.
“Come March, we want to be competing for a championship.”
With Hawkins comes a sure-fire crowd-pleaser.
The son of former NBA standout Hersey Hawkins, the 6-foot-3 swingman earned the 2012-13 Big West scoring title with 20.3 ppg. The junior ranked 13th among scorers nationwide and earned All-Big West honors and Mid-Major All-American recognition and was named conference Newcomer of the Year (he transferred from Arizona State).
Together with now-seniors Sypkens and Tyler Les, the trio put up more than 450 3-point shots, converting 43 percent while leading the Aggies to lofty national rankings in five categories: at 8.3 treys a night, UCD ranked third in D-I; its 40 percent shooting beyond the arc was ranked 17th; field goal percentage (.473) saw the Aggies ranked No. 18; their 14.8 assists per game were the nation’s 44th-best; and scoring 71 ppg placed UCD 80th.
But gone — at least for this season — is the inside presence of J.T. Adenrele, who went down with a season-ending knee injury during an August conditioning exercise.
The 6-foot-7 junior from Oakmont High will sit out 2013-14. With him go 182 rebounds and 12.6 ppg.
“I am really disappointed for J.T.,” Les says. “But after the initial disappointment, we talked. He’ll be back. He’ll be another year older, he’ll have another year of continued growth, maturity …”
Les’ smile returned as he continued:
“Actually, I’m excited now to have another two years with that young man after this year.”
Quickly, Les refocused …
“We wanted to feel sorry for J.T., but we didn’t want to feel sorry for ourselves,” the coach adds. “The coaching staff went back to the drawing board and said ‘OK, we’re going to be different.’ What I like about our team … is now we have a chance to be better different.”
Sure, Adenrele is missed, but Les says there is a chance for others to step up , involve themselves and take ownership of the new, improved Aggies.
“Early indications? I like what we’re doing,” Les continues. “But there will be nights where we really will miss J.T.”
To help move forward, a trio of new faces also are on board.
Guard Carlos Mancasola (Central Valley High of Redding) and Brynton Lemar (St. Augustine of San Diego) have become Aggies, as has post player Georgi Funtarov (Vermont Academy by way of Bulgaria).
UCD will play an exhibition game with Menlo College on Nov. 4 (7 p.m.) at The Pavilion.
The nonconference season begins at Portland on Nov. 8. Holy Names (Oakland) comes to town Nov. 11 before the Aggies head off to Utah (Nov. 15) and back to Oregon for the three-game Portland State Tournament.
Big West play opens on the road at Cal State Northridge (Jan. 9) and Long Beach (Nov. 11) before UC Riverside and Cal State Fullerton hit The Pavilion (Jan. 16 and 18).
Notes: Les was asked if he and his son Tyler had talked about this being their final season together as coach and kid. “Not really. I told him I think our guys are truly fortunate and truly blessed to be able to go to this university and play basketball in the Big West … be treated the way they are here. I don’t know if it gets much better than this for the rest of your life — so enjoy it, make the most of the opportunity.” Specifically about father/son time: “I’ve been able to see him every day and continue the really good relationship we’ve had. I don’t know if he will say that,” the coach adds with a laugh. “But I certainly feel that way. I’m really fortunate.” … Once they were all on campus, the Aggie basketballers abandoned normal routine in what Jim Les called “Heck Week, to be politically correct.” The players went wall climbing, took on each other in paint ball competition, swam at midnight, ran early in the morning and were “physically and mentally challenged in different ways.” Les said the unusual week built team chemistry and “the camaraderie and teamwork that developed … will pay dividends for us.”
— Reach Bruce Gallaudet at firstname.lastname@example.org or 530-747-8047.