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Davis

Davis, California

Tuesday, July 23, 2024

UC Davis men’s basketball 2022-23 season preview

UC Davis Head Coach Jim Les and a new Aggies’ roster seek a return to the NCAA Tournament 

By MARLON ROLON – sports@theaggie.org

 

After losing to Cal State Fullerton in the quarterfinals of the Big West Conference Tournament in Henderson, Nevada last season, the UC Davis men’s basketball team also lost prominent players in the transfer portal, leaving many who follow the team wondering how they would look at the start of the 2022-23 season. 

In the 2021-22 season, the Aggies posted a 13-11 overall record (5-6 in conference play) and advanced to their sixth straight quarterfinal round of the Big West Conference Tournament. Despite the team being eliminated from the conference tournament in the quarterfinal round, last season could be deemed a success due to the team’s improvement as the year progressed.

 Throughout the season, the Aggies’ dealt with COVID-19-related issues. The team had to cancel eight games due to the outbreak of COVID-19 — the most of any team in the Big West. The lack of continuity played a role in the team’s lack of rhythm and consistency during the season. 

“It was a factor throughout the year,” UC Davis Head Coach Jim Les said following the team’s exit from the Big West quarterfinals. “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.”

Despite playing the least amount of games in the conference, the Aggies came together at the end of the season when many thought they wouldn’t even make the postseason. 

“When we look back at it, we’ll appreciate what was accomplished and what was done despite the fact that we had a lot of adversity that this group went through, and we still kept a great attitude and continued to work really hard,” Les said.

Following the season’s end, a few players departed from the roster, most notably Ezra Manjon, one of the Big West’s best players. Manjon, a senior point guard, left Davis to join Vanderbilt University, who play in the Southeastern Conference (SEC). Last season, Manjon averaged 15 points per game, ranking sixth in scoring in the Big West. During his three seasons at UC Davis, Manjon was selected as Freshman of the Year in 2019-20 in the Big West, All-Big West second team in 2020 and 2021 and All-Big West first team in 2022. His departure from the team leaves an offensive hole on the roster, as his scoring and passing abilities are a big part of what made UC Davis a contender in the conference year in and year out. 

Another notable player who left the program via the transfer portal is graduate student Caleb Fuller, who joined Montana State in the Big Sky Conference. Fuller spent four years under Les, averaging 7.8 points per game, shooting 46% from the field and 35% from the three-point line. However, last season was Fuller’s best season under the Aggies’ emblem, posting 12.1 points, 5.5 rebounds and 2.2 assists per game. Fuller’s versatility and leadership qualities are what the Aggies will miss the most, as he is a strong rebounder, three-point shooter and defensive specialist. His toughness and grit will certainly be missed at the University Credit Union Center. 

“If I could go four years back, I would make the exact same decision,” Fuller said in tears after UC Davis’ postseason exit in the Big West Tournament last season. “I loved playing under Coach Les. I’ve grown as a basketball player but more importantly as a man. I’m getting a little emotional speaking about it, but he knows I love playing for this team.”

The loss of these two players is significant, so much so that the Big West Preseason Poll has predicted that UC Davis will finish as the sixth seed this season. However, with so many new players on the roster, the team’s potential remains a mystery. The list of new players recruited to the program includes second-year guard Ty Johnson, third-year guard Robby Beasley III, third-year forward DeAndre Henry, third-year forward Sam Manu and second-year forward Niko Rocak.

With Fuller’s absence, adding defensive players to the backcourt is a necessity for Les. Johnson, a transfer from Loyola Chicago, will hopefully provide much-needed support on the defensive end. 

Last season, UC Davis was relatively a small team size-wise. For that reason, the Aggies acquired Henry, who is 6-foot-7, from Nevada. He appeared in 33 games in two seasons with Nevada, scoring 17 points and grabbing 21 rebounds in 15 games last season. 

Les also signed 6-foot-7 forward Manu from the College of San Mateo. Last season, Manu averaged an outstanding 16.6 points, 5.7 rebounds and 1.4 steals per game. Size is what the Aggies lacked, but these two players will immediately boost their frontcourt. 

The last transfer to be added is Beasley III from the University of Montana. He averaged 11.8 points per game with the Grizzlies and was their second-best scorer on the team last season. Beasley III’s ability to consistently put the ball in the basket could help fill the hole that Manjon left. 

Other notable signings are first-year forwards Joaquin Strong and Jac Mani. 

Although the Aggies have a relatively young roster with these new additions, familiar faces that are essential to Les’s system are returning. Third-year guard Elijah Pepper, who is taking over as the leader of the team, was elected to the All-Big West Men’s Basketball Preseason Coaches’ Team. Pepper was phenomenal last season, posting big numbers for the Aggies with 15.1 points and 5.4 rebounds per game. He was fifth in scoring in the conference and ranked second in steals. Pepper is also able to score three-point shots off the dribble, making 119 three-pointers last season. If the Aggies want to compete for a championship, Pepper is key. 

Another important player who is returning from last year’s team is defensive standout Ade Adebayo. The third year is the Aggies’ best defender and he often guards the best offensive players from the opposing team.

With so many new players, UC Davis has a tough task at hand. Les will rely on the established players on the roster to set the tone for the newcomers and push for a spot in the postseason. 

The journey began on Nov. 7. as UC Davis traveled to Berkeley for the season opener. The Aggies beat the Golden Bears 75-65 to start the season 1-0. Two days later, on Nov. 9, the Aggies will host Cal Maritime in the first home game of the season. Then, UC Davis will travel to Southern California to play LMU on Nov. 12. The team will return home to host Arkansas State on Nov. 18, and four days later, the Aggies wrap up their California games against crosstown rivals Sacramento State in the Causeway Cup on Nov. 22. 

 

Written by: Marlon Rolon – sports@theaggie.org