Jim Les surveys his team and doesn't really see a weakness. Experience? He only has two seniors. No, he says. Plenty of underclassmen got a lot of playing time last year Les' first as UC Davis' men's basketball coach.
Now, Les certainly isn't predicting a Big West Conference title, either. But he likes his team enough and the evolution it has taken in the nearly 18 months since he was named coach to say the Aggies should be a force this season and will definitely improve on their 5-26 record from last season.
"We think we can score with anyone, and we'll be a much better defensive team," said Les, a former NBA guard who played four seasons for the Kings.
"We're going to rebound a lot better, too. Is experience a factor? It is and it isn't because a number of guys played a lot. For instance, (Oakmont High grad) J.T. Adenrele played in 30 of 31 games last season as a true freshman."
Already, Les has seen huge improvement. The Aggies traveled to Stillwater, Okla., last week and almost upset the Oklahoma State Cowboys. The score was tied with five minutes remaining before the hosts pulled away for a 73-65 victory.
The Aggies crushed the Cowboys in rebounding, coming away with an impressive 43-29 edge, including a 16-9 advantage on the offensive boards. Ryan Howley, a 6-foot-5 senior guard had a team-high 13 rebounds for the Aggies (0-1).
"Rebounding was a big concern (last year)," Les said. "I don't think it will be this season."
Scoring won't be a concern, either. Les, who was known for his shooting in his NBA playing days, welcomes Corey Hawkins to the squad after he had to sit out a season after transferring from Arizona State. Hawkins led the Aggies in scoring with 13 points against Oklahoma State. Hawkins has quite the prep pedigree. He owns the Arizona state high school record of 3,164 career points and once scored 65 points in a game with 14 three-pointers.
Hawkins' father is Hersey Hawkins, former NBA star. Hersey Hawkins and Les played together at Bradley University in Peoria, Ill., and it was Hersey who called Les last year to ask him if Corey could play for the Aggies. Les, who's known Corey since he was in kindergarten, took a nanosecond to say yes.
Les' own son, Tyler, a junior guard for the Aggies, and Corey Hawkins are good friends from grade school when the two would hang out while their fathers conducted basketball camps around the country.
Josh Ritchart, the Aggies' leading scorer from last season, also returns for his junior season. The Forest Lake Christian High product scored at least one three-pointer in 27 of 30 games last season.
Jim Les said in his second year the program has experienced a much-needed change of culture. The team bonded with a two-week trip to Europe during the summer to play club and college teams. The players also held each other accountable in the classroom and the weight room, Les said.
"The energy is up and we're building the foundation of something good here," Les said. "What I learned from last season is that you have to focus on the daily tasks and goals. Stay enthusiastic. We can't get caught up looking too far ahead. We get better every single day."
UC DAVIS MEN'S BASKETBALL
Coach: Jim Les (5-26, second season)
2011-12 season: 5-26 overall, 3-13 in the Big West Conference
Key loss: G Eddie Miller
Key returnees: F J.T. Adenrele, G Ryan Howley, G/F Josh Ritchart, G Tyler Les
Strengths: The Aggies can score both inside and outside, and rebounding will likely be a bright spot. The Aggies outrebounded Oklahoma State 43-29 in a 73-65 loss Nov. 9 in Stillwater.
Weaknesses: The Aggies have just two seniors guards Ryan Howley and Paolo Mancasola but both play a lot of minutes.
No. Name P Yr. Ht. Wt.
1 Iggy Nujic F Jr. 6-8 215
2 Darius Graham G Fr. 5-10 180
3 Corey Hawkins G So. 6-3 195
11 Olivier Paul-Betu G Fr. 6-2 175
13 J.T. Adenrele F So. 6-7 225
15 Tyler Les G Jr. 6-2 185
20 Avery Johnson G Jr. 6-3 180
23 Josh Ritchart G/F Jr. 6-9 235
24 Ryan Howley G Sr. 6-5 195
25 Ryan Sypkens G Jr. 6-4 195
30 Tyler Ott F Fr. 6-5 185
32 Paolo Mancasola G Sr. 6-1 180
33 Clint Bozner F So. 6-8 250
35 Justin Dueck F Fr. 6-8 235
40 Spencer Clayton F Jr. 6-10 230
(All games on 105.5 FM
Date Opponent Time
Nov. 9 at Oklahoma State L, 73-65
Sunday vs. Northern Arizona 2 p.m.
Tuesday at Sacramento State 7:35 p.m.
Nov. 28 at Nevada 7 p.m.
Dec. 1 at Idaho 7 p.m.
Dec. 5 vs. San Jose State 7 p.m.
Dec. 15 at Stanford 2 p.m.
Dec. 17 vs. Eastern Washington 7 p.m.
World Vision Challenge in Logan, Utah
Dec. 20 vs. Southern Illinois 4:30 p.m.
Dec. 21 vs. Utah State 7 p.m.
Dec. 22 vs. Nicholls State 4:30 p.m.
Dec. 29 at UC Irvine* 7 p.m.
Jan. 5 vs. Pacific* 7 p.m.
Jan. 10 vs. Cal Poly* 7 p.m.
Jan. 12 vs. UC Santa Barbara* 7 p.m.
Jan. 17 at Cal State Northridge* 7:05 p.m.
Jan. 19 at Hawaii* 10 p.m.
Jan. 24 vs. Cal State Fullerton* 7 p.m.
Jan. 26 vs. UC Riverside* 7 p.m.
Feb. 2 at Pacific* 7:30 p.m.
Feb. 7 at UC Santa Barbara* 7 p.m.
Feb. 9 at Cal Poly* 7 p.m.
Feb. 14 vs. Hawaii* 7 p.m.
Feb. 16 vs. Cal State Northridge* 7 p.m.
Feb. 20 at Long Beach State* 7:05 p.m.
Feb. 23 Bracketbusters TBA TBA
Feb. 28 at UC Riverside* 8 p.m.
March 2 at Cal State Fullerton* 6:05 p.m.
March 7 vs. Long Beach State* 7 p.m.
March 9 vs. UC Irvine* 7 p.m.
Mar. 14-16 Big West Tournament TBA
*Big West Conference game