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Wednesday, April 24, 2024

The new look Aggies look to take over The Big West in the upcoming season

After a five-year drought from the big dance, the UC Davis men’s basketball Head Coach Jim Les hopes that his new players will be the key to reach the NCAA tournament 


By MARLON ROLON — sports@theaggie.org


UC Davis Men’s Basketball is still trying to figure out ways to formulate a return to the prominent NCAA Tournament, with a lone appearance in 2017. Head Coach Jim Les and company will attempt to replicate the 2017 season in what is arguably the best season ever in program history.

Since their historic run, it’s not the lack of talent that has plagued the Aggies, they’ve compiled talented players on both ends of the floor since their run, it’s been consistency that has derailed their chances at another tournament appearance. 

The pandemic has played its part in disrupting consistency. The 2020 postseason was canceled and in the 2021 season, 11 games were canceled due to the outbreak of COVID-19.

That trend continued into the 2022 season when eight games were called off, the most of any team in the Big West. The disruption in between games disrupted the rhythm within the team. 

“It was a factor throughout the year,” said Les after last season’s second round exit in the Big West Tournament. “The stop, the starts and not getting as many game opportunities. Maybe developing rhythm and being able to experience 30 plus games at this point is really helpful because you tend to grow and over the years our team continues to get better.” 

Despite the cancellation of games last season, the team still managed to make it to the quarterfinals, losing to the eventual Big West Tournament Champions in Cal State Fullerton. 

The roster played a big role in UC Davis managing to get into the postseason. The Aggies had three players in the top 25 scoring list in the Big West, shooting guard Elijah Pepper ranked fifth averaging 15.1 points per game. Point guard Ezra Manjon ranked sixth, averaging 15 points per game and Caleb Fuller ranked 14th in scoring, averaging 12.1 points per game. 

Pepper wasn’t just a weapon on offense his defensive abilities landed him as number two in steals averaging 1.6 steals a game. Another defensive stand out for the Aggies at the forward position Christian Anigwe, ranked third averaging one blocked shot per game in the Big West. 

The talent was there last season to make some noise with a deep playoff run but the distractions interrupted the teams flow and never really established rhythm. Game cancellations became a common theme towards the end of last season which affected the Aggies going into the postseason. 

Following their exit in the quarterfinals in Henderson, Nevada, UC Davis lost one of their best players and a top player in the conference in Manjon. The standout point guard entered the transfer portal and ended up going to the SEC and joining Vanderbilt University. 

Manjon is a talented player with tons of potential. A player of his caliber can play in a Power Five conference. His list of accolades back that up, as this past season he was selected to the first team All-Big West Conference First Team. In 2020 and 2021, he got the nod for All-Big West Conference Second Team and he was selected for Freshmen of the Year award in the Big West Conference in the 2019-20 season.   

The Aggies lost another key player, senior forward Fuller. He graduated and continued his playing career through graduate school joining Montana State in the Big Sky Conference. Fuller spent four years playing under Les in Davis and was a key contributor for the Aggies. 

Other players worth mentioning that left entered the transfer portal are Caleb McGill, Aaron Murphy and Cameron Niles. 

With Manjon and Fuller being two key players that were significant pieces to Les’ system gone from the roster the team was left with question marks regarding the future of the program. Many were left to wonder about the uncertainty of the direction of the team. 

However, Les and his staff wasted no time in recruiting new talent that provided some ease to those who follow the team. They recruited three talented transfers: Second-year guard Ty Johnson, third-year guard Robby Beasely III and third-year forward DeAndre Henry.

  Johnson, who transferred from Loyola Chicago, is a defensive specialist, an area where the Aggies needed help last season. Johnson appeared in 13 games for Loyola Chicago last season, his team was 11-2 in that span and 3-0 when he started. 

The Aggies bolstered their offense with Beasely III who transferred from Montana. He was second in scoring for the Grizzlies last season, averaging 11.8 points per game. He also shot 36.9% from the three point line last season. This signing fills a hole on offense and could help the scoring gap at guard left by Manjon’s departure. 

Lastly, Les added size to his roster by adding Henry, the 6’7 Nevada transfer. Henry played two seasons for Nevada. He played 33 games in the span of over two seasons and could help in adding some size that is missing. 

The signings did not stop there, UC Davis added depth with the additions of their freshman class. Joaquin Strong, the 6’7 forward from Villa Park high school in Southern California, averaged 16.7 points along with 8.9 rebounds and 4.3 assists per game. He was ranked the no. 1 forward in Southern California by the Press Sports app.

Jac Mani, the 6’9 forward from Beverly Hills, averaged 18 points per game in his four years at Beverly Hills High School. He averaged a double-double with 20 points and 11 rebounds per game in his junior year. His large presence in the paint could help, but the question remains whether it will be next season of the following season after that since the transition from high school to college ball could take some time. Still, Coach Les has not shied away from first-year player’s if they are ready, as recent examples like Manjon and Pepper came onto the scene as first year players.  

This Aggie team will look different from last season’s team. UC Davis added size with their new guards that could help the team with defensive assignments on and off the ball. 

Many questions have been answered regarding which pieces will be added to replace the players that departed. However, many questions still linger as to how good will this team be come October. They are very young with a ton of potential, expect to see some growing pains with this young unit.

The transfers bring in quality experience from different conferences. They will be the key in unlocking and maximizing the team’s overall potential. The freshman can contribute from the start if they are managed well but the transition from high school to Division One will be challenging. 

The Aggies already have established players on their roster such as Pepper, Anigwe and defensive specialist Ade Adebayo. These players are proven and need help from the transfers to get this team to contend for the Big West Championship. If they can reach their potential, the Aggies hope it translates into their second NCAA Tournament appearance. 


Written by: Marlon Rolon — sports@theaggie.org



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