New coach. New direction.
The 2011-12 basketball season got off to a strong start last week with a 108-63 exhibition win over Menlo College in the Pavilion.
Now, with the five-month campaign underway, the team must continue to develop as it looks to perfect the schemes of new head coach Jim Les.
“We’re bringing a defensive mindset,” Les said. “We think we have very good skilled players and athletes that can defend and have a purpose for what we’re doing on the defensive end.
“We’re going to be aggressive, we’re going to be physical [and] we’re going to try to dictate what offenses do. That’s a successful formula to winning basketball.”
Given that, the Aggies must replace Mark Payne and Joe Harden, who together combined for 39 percent of the team’s scoring last year.
Fans should find it reassuring that the team won’t be playing run and gun basketball. Rather, the team is expecting that the intensity and unwavering expectations of their new head coach will lead them to success.
“Coach [Les] brings an energy and passion every day to the court that makes us want to get better,” sophomore forward Josh Ritchart said.
Added senior guard Eddie Miller, “[Coach Les and his staff] have high expectations and they’re teaching us to hold ourselves to those same standards.”
Those expectations will be the same for everyone on the team, explained Les, and everyone will have an opportunity to fight for playing time.
Naturally, some players have already established themselves as key pieces of the puzzle.
Ritchart, Alex Tiffin, Ryan Sypkens, Ryan Howley and Tyrell Corbin were the five starters from the scrimmage against Menlo College and all five can expect to play significant minutes this season.
Two other players, Miller and Harrison Dupont, will be expected to start and contribute once they are fully recovered from injuries that hampered their preseason training camps.
Coach Les also expects to see his freshmen step in and contribute to the effort. In particular, Corbin and J.T. Adenrele have done well transitioning from high school to Division I basketball.
While Les and the rookies share the bond of both being in their first year on campus, the same cannot be said for the rest of the organization.
In helping him adapt to the Davis way of basketball, Les has relied on assistant coach Kevin Nosek, now in his sixth year with the program.
“[He helps] with the nuances of knowing our players,” Les said. “He knows Davis basketball and he knows Big West [Conference] basketball. All [of that] is going to pay huge dividends.”
For leadership on the court, the team has turned to Miller, now in his second year with the program after transferring from California in 2009.
“They respect his experience and his approach to the game,” Les said. “Coming from a senior, I think that’s big.”
For the players and coaches, last week’s scrimmage was the beginning of a long and grueling season. This weekend the team will travel to San Diego for three games before playing its first home contest of the regular season, Nov. 15 against UC Santa Cruz.
The Stanford Cardinal will come to the Pavilion on Nov. 18.
Following the contest against the Cardinal, the Aggies will play seven more games before the 16-game Big West Conference Schedule begins.
Asked about his goals for the season, Les gave a long-winded response that encapsulated what he wants to take away from his first year at the helm the UC Davis basketball program.
“I don’t have goals in terms of numbers or wins. I have goals in terms of our approach to the game,” he said. “If you’re willing to learn and you’re willing to open up to new ideas and new ways of playing, the wins and success will take care of itself.
“We want to pack [the Pavilion]. We want to make basketball games an event that people look forward to and can get engaged with. We’ve got a really good group of guys and that’s our vision, to make basketball relevant on campus again.”
CAELUM SHOVE can be reached at email@example.com.