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Saturday, October 16, 2021

Column: The dual threat 

For all 23 ICA teams on the UC Davis campus, there is one home game that sticks out over the rest.

No, it’s not the match against rival Sacramento State.

It’s the last home game of the year – or as it is more commonly referred to, Senior Day/Night.

It’s typically the most emotional home game of the season and usually isn’t right unless someone cries.

For the men’s basketball team, this year’s Senior Night carried a little more meaning.

Along with sending off Todd Lowenthal, the Aggies said goodbye to arguably two of the best players ever to don Aggie blue and gold – Mark Payne and Joe Harden.

The two players finished their UC Davis careers as incredibly influential icons both on and off the court.

Together, Payne and Harden were the only 1,000-point scorers to play on the same team in program history.

Payne will go down as one of the most versatile players in UC Davis history. The 6-foot-8 guard can play any position. He stands alone as the only Aggie with over 1,000 points, 400 assists and 600 rebounds.

While Harden lacked the stature of a typical power forward, the Stockton, Calif. native made up for it with sheer physicality. Harden was the most consistent offensive threat for the Aggies this season, averaging 14.9 points per game and 5.6 rebounds per game.

Both Payne and Harden are two of the five men’s basketball players to finish their UC Davis careers in the top-10 in both scoring and rebounding. Three of the Aggies’ four Big West Conference wins came when both Payne and Harden were on the floor.

Off the court, Payne and Harden have stuck with the team through thick and thin. Numerous players have left the team for one reason or another during their tenure, but Payne and Harden haven’t. They stuck with coach Gary Stewart despite some strong allegations against him.

Payne and Harden were clearly team leaders.

It’s no secret that this was another tumultuous year for UC Davis men’s basketball. The Aggies finished the season under .500 for the sixth straight year. Payne and Harden have never played on a winning team in their career, yet they stuck with the program.

“This year was not the way I imagined it,” Payne said. “The camaraderie that you build with your teammates is once in a lifetime. I’m going to miss that a lot. Being around those guys every day at eight in the morning, you really grow with each other.”

Even though their careers didn’t go as planned, Payne and Harden will still miss playing at the Pavilion.

Will this be the last time, however, the duo plays basketball?

It’s hard to say. While both are incredibly talented, Payne makes the better professional basketball prospect. He’s a tall point guard that has both size and the dribbling ability to compete a higher level. He’s the more versatile of the duo, but that doesn’t mean Harden can’t do some damage at the next level.

Payne has expressed interest in playing professional basketball. He said he will hire an agent and enter the NBA draft. If he doesn’t get drafted, Payne said he would probably play overseas. Harden hasn’t publicly announced his plans to play at the next level, but odds are he might do the same thing as Payne.

Both can make an impact at the next level. If UC Davis is to get its first player in the National Basketball Association, that player will most likely have the last name of Payne or Harden.

JASON ALPERT has expressed his cynicism when it comes to the future of UC Davis men’s basketball and it need not be repeated. Simply put, if UC Davis wants to compete in the future, changes need to be made. To discuss the future of Aggie men’s basketball, e-mail him at sports@theaggie.org.

1 COMMENT

  1. Payne and Harden played hard and tried hard. While I appreciate their dedication to Coach Stewart, it is time for a change. The guy has had plenty of chances, it is time to fire him and hire a new coach. It is clear that a change is necessary. We just need an athletic director with some balls to do his job!

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