The heightened anticipation for the start of Aggie basketball is finally over. Official practices began on October 6 as UC Davis began preparation for the upcoming 2014-2015 season which starts against Holy Names on Nov. 16.
Coming off a 9-22 overall season with 4-12 record in Big West during last year’s campaign, the Aggies begin this season with a healthy squad with hopes to improve.
A tandem of guards led the Aggies last season. Senior guard Corey Hawkins averaged 18 points per game, and former guard Ryan Sypkens average 11.4 points per game off the bench. Sypkens has since finished his career at UC Davis and was recently selected by the Idaho Stampede, a Utah Jazz affiliate, in the NBA’s Development League draft.
Hawkins has led the Aggies in scoring since transferring from Arizona State. He has accumulated a total of 1,108 points in his two years as an Aggie. As he enters his last year of NCAA eligibility, the coaching staff is confident the Hawkins will lead UC Davis to victory.
“He’s a talented guy,” said head coach Jim Less on Hawkins success at UC Davis. “He’s got a chance this year to put UC Davis basketball on the map, and be a big part of that, and that’s what we expect him to do in his senior year.”
Last season’s woes emerged from the lack of depth in the front court. Senior forwards J.T. Adenrele and Josh Ritchart missed significant minutes of the 2013-2014 season due to injuries; leaving the Aggies vulnerable in the front court.
“I think they’ve handled the adversity of their injuries, and are coming back extremely healthy and hungry… To their credit, not only did they get healthy, they became better basketball players during their time off,” said Les.
The return of Adenrele is going help the Aggies find more second chances on offense and to be more aggressive on both sides of the ball. UC Davis ranked last in the Big West in rebounding, only averaging 28.2 boards per game. Adenrele will also help with rim protection, the Aggies averaged 2.3 blocks per game, second to last in the Big West. During his 2012-2013 campaign, Adenrele average 1.5 blocks per game, third best in the conference.
Additionally, Adenrele’s ability to finish in the paint will take a load off Hawkins, who led the Big West in scoring two seasons ago. The duo will be a frustration for opposing defenses. After not playing for a year, Adenrele is determined to make presence is known this season.
Due to the aforementioned injuries, sophomore forward Georgi Funtarov was called upon to replaced Adenrele and Ritchart in the paint, where he developed into an offensive threat. During his freshman season, Funtarov averaged 8.8 points per game and 4.4 rebounds per game. His ability to shoot from mid-range and beyond the arc will help the Aggies with their spacing issues. He will spread the floor and will allow Adenrele space to work in the post and open up lanes for the guards to drive to the basket. Funtarov will be a great asset to the Aggies’ offensive attack.
After redshirting the 2013-2014 season, senior guard Tyler Les will intimidate opponents from beyond the arc. Les has made 144 three-pointers during his college career. He will succeed former Aggie guard Ryan Sypkens as the main three point threat. Sypkens currently holds the record for most three-pointers made in Aggie history with 315.
The return of key players and the experience of the team will certainly help the Aggies construct a productive season. The Big West is deep, but if UC Davis manages to stay healthy, they have a shot at competing for the Big West championship.
“… We’ve got four fifth-year seniors,” said Les “We’ve got experienced guys who have logged a lot of minutes at the Division I level. [They] understand what it takes to have success, and they provide us with a really good daily visual of how to go about their business, and everybody else has fallen into line.”
UC Davis opens the season on November 16 as the host the Holy Names Hawks at the Pavilion in Davis, Calif.