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Monday, June 24, 2024

Column: Les is more?

Jim Les has been around.

A three-point specialist, he played eight years in the NBA – including four for the Sacramento Kings. Les was the head coach at his alma mater Bradley College in Illinois from 2002-11 – a tenure that included a trip to the Sweet Sixteen in 2006. Now, his endeavors take him to UC Davis.

And boy is he excited to coach at the Pavilion.

“I am very excited to be coming back to the Sacramento region and joining the UC Davis family,” Les said. “I thought so highly of UC Davis that I encouraged my son, Tyler, to be an Aggie student-athlete and now it is truly an honor to be asked to teach and coach here.”

His enthusiasm is admirable. But to be completely honest, I’m not totally sold on Les as a coach.

Maybe it’s just my general skepticism, but when I heard Les was hired, I wasn’t too thrilled. My initial thought was that he was hired simply because he was a name. Having his son on the team also helped.

Athletic director Greg Warzecka mentioned that Les was clearly the best out of a large pool of candidates.

“Jim’s experience as a player, but especially as a leader of outstanding student-athletes makes him an ideal coach to lead our program,” Warzecka said. “He’s experienced college basketball at its highest levels and brings his immense coaching and teaching abilities to UC Davis. We’re excited about the impact he will make on the program.”

Yet, despite an apparent “national search” as Warzecka mentioned, the choice came down to the father of a kid on the team.

Nonetheless, the decision has been made. There was no “Lebron” theatrics, just a press conference deep inside the Pavilion.

At the announcement, Warzecka spoke a lot of Les’s experience, and rightfully so. Les brings a tremendous track record to the Pavilion and that’s good – to an extent. The last men’s basketball coach also brought in a lot of experience, but obviously that didn’t work out so well. Clearly past successes don’t translate to future wins.

Nonetheless, Les was encouraged by the roster he is inheriting. Despite losing arguably two of the best players ever to don the Aggie Blue, Mark Payne and Joe Harden, Les is expecting good things immediately from UC Davis.

“In the future on this team, you’re going to see a passion for the game, a work ethic everyday via practice or games and they will become students of the game,” Les said. “What I’ve proven from my playing career is that anything is possible when you do that, regardless of the tools you come to work with.

“I’m pretty excited about the talent level of this group of guys.”

This sense of optimism surrounding the men’s basketball team has become predictable. Whenever the squad had hardship, whether it was shooting 15 percent in a loss to Pacific, or finishing with its seventh straight losing season, the people surrounding the team would still be optimistic. Throughout the turmoil, no one stood up and openly admitted that maybe the team wasn’t that good.

And that probably is just a part of coaching. You never want to give up hope and say your team needs work. If Les says this in the interview, that the men’s basketball team needs a lot of help, he probably doesn’t get the job. So, just by virtue of the position, Les has to be optimistic.

I guess Les’ hopefulness is what’s keeping me skeptical. I really want to see him succeed and do well at UC Davis. He seems like a very caring and enthusiastic guy about coming to UC Davis. He has high hopes for the Aggies in spite of what he actually has to work with.

But if I’ve learned one thing over the past year, sports don’t reward teams for being optimistic.

JASON ALPERT can be reached at sports@theaggie.org.

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