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Sunday, April 21, 2024

Get to know the two first years taking UC Davis men’s hoops by storm

The Aggie sat down with Ezra Manjon and Elijah Pepper to talk about the season

Currently sitting at second in the Big West with a 6-5 conference record, the UC Davis men’s basketball team has so far surpassed their eighth place pre-season projection. After five seniors graduated at the end of last season, the program was left searching for a new starting rotation. 

With nine underclassmen on this year’s roster, anyone could take the starting minutes. Although the Aggies have enjoyed contributions from across their roster, the most noteworthy have come from two standout freshman guards: Ezra Manjon and Elijah Pepper. 

Manjon, from Brentwood, California, and Pepper, from Selah, Washington, gave the Aggies the boost they needed at the start of the season and have developed into key contributors in a short time. Manjon is averaging 12.6 points per game, along with four assists and three rebounds. He boasts four 20-point games, with a career high of 24 against Cal State Fullerton. Manjon also recently became the first true freshman in decades to be awarded Big West player of the week multiple times in the same season.

Pepper, on the other hand, has provided the Aggies with a much bigger guard who can both defend and stretch the floor, averaging nearly nine points and 5.5 rebounds per game. His season-high came in at 19 points against Long Beach State.

The California Aggie had an opportunity to get to know more about these two players.

The California Aggie: How did you feel coming into this school and joining this team? Has it been what you expected? 

Ezra Manjon: The first day I was a little anxious because I didn’t know what the program was going to be like. Coming in, I knew [the practices] and the games were going to be tough. I knew it was going to be a different style of game. But, I was ready for the speed of the game. My junior year [of high school] in AAU — it was a really fast game. I was good with the pace when I came in. I wasn’t ready for the practices and the pounding on the body and all of that. Now, I’m just comfortable and confident.

Elijah Pepper: I think at the beginning of the year I was just kind of nervous. I was trying to get really comfortable and get into the groove of things. Once I got comfortable, it’s just been a routine. Now [I’m] more focused on what I have to get done on the court and in class.

TCA: How much impact did your coaches and teammates have on getting ready for the season, and where you are now?

Manjon: The coaches prepared me really well. In the off-season, we trained really hard, got my body prepared for it. They were talking to me about my mental [game]. My teammates were all there [for me]. It was pretty good preparation leading up to all the competing and all of that.

Pepper: They’ve been tremendous. If I didn’t have them, I don’t know where I would be. It’s tough to say because, without them, I would probably be lost honestly. That’s probably the best way I can [put] it.

TCA: Where do you see the team right now? What do you think the potential is for this season?

Manjon: Right now, [I think] we have the potential to beat any team in our conference. I feel like we can beat anybody and do anything we put our minds to. And we’re super young so I feel like our potential is super high, our ceiling is super high and our future is really bright. 

Pepper: I think we’re in a good position right now. I think we’re in a good spot and our limit is sky-high. We just have to get everything clicking together. One night the offense [may] struggle but the defense is really good and the other night it’s the other way. So, I think once we get everything going in the same direction then we’re good. 

TCA: When did you start playing basketball? When did you realize you loved it and wanted to dedicate your time to it?

Manjon: When I was like one or two [years old], my brother who’s three years older than me always liked basketball and football, so I would always play with his toys and a little basketball — stuff like that. I started really young because of my brother. As I started getting older, I started working out with him more, so I’ve been around basketball basically my whole life.

Pepper: I’ve been playing basketball since I was like one. When I realized that I wanted to play college basketball when I was in like fourth or fifth grade. I was like ‘Hey, I want to play basketball for as long as I can.’

TCA: Is there a particular moment or a person — whether a loss, a tough moment or a favorite coach — in your playing career that helped shape you into the players you are today?

Manjon: In 2015, my grandpa who was really inspirational with basketball [and] helped me a lot, passed away. That made me go harder and keep going. I also have a lot of coaches in my life. Coach Q, a couple [of] other coaches, they pushed me to be vocal, tough and, most importantly, my faith has just kept me through everything. 

Pepper: My dad played professional basketball in Australia. That was someone and I always just followed in his footsteps. It took me to playing basketball in college and hopefully [beyond].

TCA: Going more to your life off of the court — what do you do in your free time? Any hobbies, shows you like to watch or activities you like to do?

Manjon: One real big hobby I have is that I like to collect shoes. I’m really big on shoes and like to buy them. My favorite [pair] of shoes ever are the Motorboat nines. Second favorites I would probably go [with] the Chicago Jordan ones. I like to watch tv and play video games. I like Call of Duty and nothing much [aside from that than to] just go to church.

Pepper: If I’m not doing anything related to basketball, I’m probably either hanging out with some friends, watching some Netflix or playing some video games. Those are probably my top three right there.

TCA: It’s only your first year here, but if we were to fast forward into the future, what would you have hoped to accomplish in your college career?

Manjon: There’s a lot of things I want to accomplish. Little things like be the best player I can be, win some championships. I love to win and I’m really competitive. I want to help other players reach their potential too. And just let people see Christ through me. That’s really important to me.

Pepper: At the end of my college career I would [have] hopefully won Big West championships. As long as we win, I’m happy. 

The Aggies return to action Feb. 20 against Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo. 

Written by: Omar Navarro — sports@theaggie.org


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