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Sunday, June 16, 2024

Inside the game with Jim Les

The UC Davis men’s basketball team is hoping Les is more.

After finishing last in the Big West Conference last season, the Aggies hope new head coach Jim Les can turn the program around.

As a former Sacramento King, Les has experience in the Sacramento area, and as head coach at Bradley University, he led his team to a Sweet-16 appearance.

His career as UC Davis coach has gotten off to a strong start, as he landed a top-notch recruit in Tyrell Corbin just two weeks into his tenure.

Last week, Les took the time to talk to California Aggie Sports Writer Trevor Cramer to discuss his return to the region, his experience at Bradley and the future of the UC Davis program.

After being away from the Sacramento area for several years, what is it like for you to return to the region?

I’m really excited. I have first-hand knowledge of the passion the Sacramento region has for basketball and the rabid fans. Our goal now is to give the fans from around the area an excuse to come to campus and watch UC Davis basketball.

As a former Kings player, how do you feel about the Kings’ current situation?

I’m really happy that Sacramento will get another year to put their best foot forward, and hopefully keep the team in Sacramento. I think over the years, the Kings’ fans have taken a backseat to no one, and this fan base deserves to have an NBA franchise. I also think that [Sacramento Mayor] Kevin Johnson has been a great ambassador for the team and hopefully he’ll be able to keep the team here for a long time.

Similarly to the Kings, fan support for UC Davis basketball has fallen off in recent years. Is there anything you plan to do to revive the support for the program?

I’ve been around enough to know that people support a winner. First and foremost it starts with our work on an everyday basis. Our coaching needs to be sharp to get our returning players up to their full potential. I also think there’s a relationship that we need to develop with the community. The community needs to be involved in the program and see the vision that I have for the future.

After a tough year last season, what are some realistic goals for UC Davis in 2011-12?

What I’ve seen so far since I’ve been here is a team that wants to be good, and a team that has put in the time to try to get better. With that and the new recruits I’m optimistic that the turnaround for this program will not take a long time. Now we just have to enjoy the ride, but with that comes the establishment of a strong work ethic.

One of your greatest achievements as a coach was leading Bradley to a Sweet-16 appearance. Do you think UC Davis has the potential to reach that level?

I think the sky is the limit. I feel a commitment that starts at the top with Chancellor Katehi, and I’ve seen first-hand what a winning basketball team can do to energize a community. I feel confident that UC Davis can achieve all of our goals.

How do you plan to fill the holes left by your three graduating seniors, including Mark Payne and Joe Harden – arguably two of the best players to put on Aggie blue?

All three seniors have been able to put their imprints on this program. They were corner stones of UC Davis basketball for several years. It’s too early to say how we will fill the void they leave behind, but I can say this: with a new coach everyone starts with a clean slate. I’m not sure we’ll be able to fill all of the voids in production, but I know we’re working hard to fill some of the holes those seniors are leaving.

One of your first moves was recruiting Tyrell Corbin, one of the Aggies’ biggest recruits in recent memory. What do you expect from him this upcoming season?

For us to land a player of Tyrell’s quality, especially late in the recruiting period was awesome. [Assistant] coach [Kevin] Nosek did a good job of continuing the recruiting process as the team was searching for a coach. He’s coming into a team that’s losing its starting point-guard, and we run a system that is ideal for a point-guard.

You’ve been coach of the program for a few weeks now. How much time have you been able to spend with your players since you took over?

At this point in the year, I am only allowed to work with the players on the floor for two hours a week. We have been trying to maximize that time in order to get the players used to my style. What will be really important is after finals, when they take off and go home. They need to be working on their own during that period, so they can come back in the fall bigger, faster and stronger. I’ve always viewed the off-season as a time for individuals to get better, and when school starts then it’s time for the team to improve together.

TREVOR CRAMER can be reached at sports@theaggie.org.

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