UC Davis men’s basketball recently said so long to arguably the most dominant tandem in program history: 6-foot-8 seniors Joe Harden and Mark Payne.
To coach Gary Stewart, these two were nothing short of extraordinary.
“They’ve been terrific,” Stewart said. “They’ve led by example, they’ve been exemplary people in the community, excellent students and team-first guys. We’ll be able to draw on the lessons that they left us. We’ll be able to take those lessons and apply them in a positive way. They’ve made a huge impact on all of us.”
Despite an upsetting 4-12 league mark this year for the Aggies, the Big West Conference recognized both Harden and Payne with All-Big West Conference Honorable Mentions.
Payne led the Aggies with 15.5 points per game to accompany his 4.9 rebounds and 3.2 assists per game.
A guard out of Stockton, Calif., Payne finished fourth in the league in field goal percentage (52.2) and seventh in free throw percentage (81.4).
Payne is also the conference active career leader in points, assists and steals, with 1,382; 448; and 178, respectively.
Additionally, the senior joined the select group of Aggies to pass the 1,000 mark in career points, an accomplishment that struck Stewart as particularly impressive.
“It’s a really significant achievement considering that [Payne is] a pass-first player,” Stewart said. “Scoring is something we pushed him to do because he has that type of ability, but his natural instinct is to get others involved and to pass the basketball.”
Along with his honorable mention nod, Harden was recognized as the conference’s “Best Hustle Player” for the second consecutive season.
The veteran out of Acampo, Calif. ranks 11th in the league in scoring (14.9) and eighth in free throw percentage (80 percent). The forward scored double-digits in 22 of his 28 games. In six contests, Harden poured in 20 or more points.
An injury in late February cut Harden’s season short, but he still finished his Aggie career with 1,326 points.
“From a coaching standpoint, [Harden] is a dream come true,” Stewart said. “There are some guys that are skilled and some guys that are hard-hat warriors – he has the hard hat and the toughness and he brings that every day, but he’s also got the skill set.”
The contributions the duo brought to UC Davis men’s basketball this season earned them the title of The California Aggie’s Co-Male Athletes of the Quarter.
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