It’s never too early – to talk basketball, that is.
While the NBA has started already, we are going to talk about college basketball – a real game where defense is actually played and you can actually stand watching an entire season. (You got it, folks. I hate the NBA.)
Here are some headlines to get you familiar with the 2009-2010 UC Davis men’s basketball team.
Bye, bye Vince
The Aggies are no longer with the services of Vince Oliver, one of the better scorers in UC Davis’ history.
However, it’s not so much his ability to put the ball in the basket that will be missed, but rather his presence on the court.
“What we will miss most is the competitiveness and leadership,” coach Gary Stewart said.
“Vince was someone we could turn to,” senior Dominic Calegari said. “When things were slow and stagnant, he could make something happen.”
The Inglewood, Calif. native averaged a team-high 15.4 points in his senior season, and became only the 15th player in UC Davis history to score 1,000 career points.
Oliver was selected by the Idaho Stampede in the eighth round of Thursday’s NBA Developmental League Draft.
Breaking in the new guys
With the loss of Oliver and four other seniors, the Aggies will rely heavily on an artillery of freshmen – including Ryan Howley, DeAndre Metlock, Julian Welch and Ryan Sypkens.
Stewart sees the newcomers as a key to the Aggies’ season.
“Where our season hangs in the balance,” Stewart said, “is dependent upon how quickly the new guys get acclimated to rigorous Division I play.
“We need significant contributions from a number of new players. We can’t do it with six. Because of our system and the way that we play, we are going to have to rely on a deep bench.”
So far, that doesn’t seem to be an issue.
“The freshmen are picking up the offense,” junior Mark Payne said. “I think some of the new guys will step in and contribute a lot.”
Stewart has an interesting way of describing the connection between Payne and fellow junior Joe Harden.
“They could find each other in a movie theater with no light on and no words spoken,” Stewart said.
Yeah, that about sums it up. Payne and Harden have an intuitive connection on the court that sometimes even amazes their teammates.
“Everybody knows they are looking for each other,” Calegari said. “They catch you off guard still and see each other through traffic.”
The duo averaged a combined 25.2 points, 13 rebounds and 6.4 assists per game last season. Both were preseason All-Big West Conference selections this year.
The two, who have played together since the sixth grade, will look to boost those numbers this season.
It’s not often that a player can make the adjustment from the outside game to playing solely inside the paint.
This is something that Calegari is attempting to do this season as he becomes the main presence for the Aggies under the basket.
“Dom has put on a lot of weight,” Payne said. “He is bigger and stronger and has done a lot this spring in the weight room. I think he is going to spend a lot more time in the [paint] because he feels he is bigger and stronger than everybody.”
Calegari isn’t hesitant to talk about his new style of play.
“That has been my focus in the offseason,” Calegari said. “Working on the inside game and being more versatile. I had that intention last year, but found myself floating out the perimeter. This year, I’m more comfortable inside than I am outside. I’m feeling stronger, bigger, more patient and a lot more confident inside.”
Calegari shot 37.9 percent from three-point land last season while averaging 11 points and 4.4 rebounds per contest. This year, he will have to stray from the outside game and boost his inside scoring and rebounding.
Overall, the Aggies are excited for the upcoming season. They have their eyes set on a Big West championship.
“Winning conference is the only thing on my mind,” Calegari said. “I feel like all of us have the goal of finishing first. You may as well set the bar high and go for it.”
MAX ROSENBLUM is excited for UC Davis men’s basketball. He also pities those with NBA Season Pass. How can anybody watch that much NBA? Let him know at email@example.com.