UC Davis seeks breakthrough in men's basketball

11/05/2013 12:00 AM

11/05/2013 5:19 PM

Ryan Sypkens has enjoyed his time at UC Davis.

The fifth-year senior from Franklin High School loves the campus, the education and the opportunity to play in front of family and friends.

Sypkens, a 6-foot-4 guard, also appreciates having one more chance to help turn around an Aggies program that has endured nine consecutive losing seasons. He thinks this could be the season that dubious streak ends.

The Aggies improved from 5-26 in the 2011-12 season – which Sypkens largely missed because of a knee injury – to 14-17, one of the top 10 turnarounds in college basketball last season.

"We made some huge improvement last year, so we're all really excited about this season," said Sypkens, who averaged 14.1 points and set a school record with 106 three-pointers last season. "As for me, I want to leave here with no regrets. I want to do everything I can for us to have the best season possible."

That's also the goal for third-year coach Jim Les, a former NBA guard.

"We're really excited about the progression of the program starting Year Three," said Les, who coached for nine years at Bradley, his alma mater in Peoria, Ill., before coming to UC Davis. "We've got a lot of veteran guys who logged a lot of minutes last year and improved from five to 14 wins. But this next jump might be the toughest and most demanding."

The team is led by 6-3 junior guard Corey Hawkins, whose father, Hersey, played in the NBA and is Les' longtime friend. Hawkins, a transfer from Arizona State, was the Big West Conference Newcomer of the Year and a Lou Henson Mid-Major All-American last season after leading the conference with a 20.3-point average. He has received a number of national preseason accolades.

"He's a Pac-12 player playing at UC Davis and in the Big West," Les said. "What I respect most about Corey is that even with all the attention he's garnered, it hasn't changed who he is. He continues to work hard, and he continues to be a leader for our team."

+The Aggies were dealt a blow in August when 6-7 junior forward J.T. Adenrele suffered a season-ending left knee injury. The Oakmont graduate started all 31 games last season, averaging 12.6 points and 5.9 rebounds.

"My first response was that I felt really bad for him because he emerged as a dominant player for us," Les said. "But the positive is that he's going to come back to us a year older, a year wiser and a year stronger."

Josh Ritchart, a 6-9 senior swingman from Forest Lake Christian, is trying to help fill the void. A four-year contributor and the Big West co-Freshman of the Year in 2011, Ritchart started 14 games last season, played in 30 and averaged 7.8 points, including making 36 3-pointers.

"He's a guy starting to dominate," Les said. "He can score inside, score outside. He's done a great job of getting stronger, getting quicker. He'll present teams with a matchup problem."

Additional frontcourt help is expected from 6-8 Texas-San Antonio transfer Iggy Nujic, a native of Perth, Australia, and 6-8 Bulgarian freshman Georgi Funtarov.

Former Sacramento High star Darius Graham, who gave the Aggies a spark at point guard as a freshman before suffering a knee injury last season, returns with a medical redshirt that gives him at least four more years in the program.

"I call him our Indy pace car," Les said. "He sets the pace for the tempo we want to play. He's quick, he's explosive and makes really good decisions playing at that pace."

Les also said 6-4 freshman guard Brynton Lemar, who led St. Augustine of San Diego to the CIF State Division III championship last season, has earned a role on the team.

That partly has allowed Les to redshirt his son, Tyler, and save the 6-2 guard's senior season for next year. The younger Les played in all 31 games last season and averaged 5.1 points.

"He'll be able to add some feathers to his cap academically by taking some extra classes," Les said. "And it's good for us from the standpoint of our future."

UC Davis has been picked to finish fifth in the highly competitive Big West this season.

Pacific, last season's Big West NCAA Tournament representative, has moved to the West Coast Conference, and three-time defending regular-season champion Long Beach State may be in a transition season.

"From everything I've read and seen, the conference is going to be very competitive and pretty wide open," Sypkens said. "We feel we'll be right in the mix."

MEN

Coach: Jim Les (19-43, third season)

2012-13: 14-17 overall, 9-9 (sixth) in Big West Conference

Key loss: J.T. Adenrele (out for season with knee injury)

Key returnees: G Corey Hawkins (Big West Newcomer of the Year), G Ryan Sypkens, G-F Josh Ritchart and G Darius Graham

Strengths: The Aggies have an impact player in Hawkins (the Big West scoring leader at 20.3 points per game) and are strong from the perimeter. They led the Big West in field-goal percentage (.473) and 3-point percentage (40.5) last season.

Area to improve: The Aggies need to play tougher inside and rebound better. They were last in the 10-team Big West in steals (4.6) and turnover margin (-3.42) and eighth in rebounding margin (-.06) last season.

ROSTER

No. Name P Yr. Ht. Wt.

0 Brynton Lemar G Fr. 6-4 192

1 Iggy Nujic F Jr. 6-8 215

2 Darius Graham G Fr. 5-10 180

3 Corey Hawkins G Jr. 6-3 195

11 Olivier-Paul Betu G So. 6-2 175

12 Georgi Funtarov F Fr. 6-8 205

13 J.T. Adenrele-x F Jr. 6-7 225

14 Ivan Nikolic F Fr. 6-6 200

15 Tyler Les-y G Sr. 6-2 185

20 Avery Johnson G Jr. 6-3 180

23 Josh Ritchart G-F Sr. 6-9 235

25 Ryan Sypkens G Sr. 6-4 195

31 Carlos Mancasola G Fr. 6-2 165

33 Clint Bozner F Jr. 6-8 250

40 Justin Dueck F So. 6-8 235

x-Out for season with knee injury; y-Redshirt

SCHEDULE

Date Opponent Time

Friday at Portland 7:30 p.m.

Nov. 11 vs. Holy Names 7 p.m.

Nov. 15 at Utah 7 p.m.

Portland State Tournament

Nov. 22 vs. S. Illinois-Edwardsville 3 p.m.

Nov. 23 vs. Loyola 3 p.m.

Nov. 24 vs. Portland State 3 p.m.

Nov. 26 vs. Sacramento State 7 p.m.

Nov. 30 vs. Idaho 2 p.m.

Dec. 2 at Seattle 7:05 p.m.

Dec. 7 vs. Nevada 7 p.m.

Dec. 14 at Stanford 5 p.m.

Dec. 18 at San Jose State 8 p.m.

Dec. 21 vs. Air Force 2:30 p.m.

Dec. 30 vs. Furman 7 p.m.

Jan. 2 vs. Simpson 7 p.m.

Jan. 9 at Cal State Northridge* 7:05 p.m.

Jan. 11 at Long Beach State* 4 p.m.

Jan. 16 vs. UC Riverside* 7 p.m.

Jan. 18 vs. Cal State Fullerton* 7 p.m.

Jan. 23 vs. Hawaii* 7 p.m.

Jan. 30 at Cal Poly* 7 p.m.

Feb. 1 at UC Santa Barbara* 4 p.m.

Feb. 6 vs. Cal State Northridge* 7 p.m.

Feb. 8 vs. UC Irvine* 7 p.m.

Feb. 13 at Cal State Fullerton* 7 p.m.

Feb. 20 vs. Long Beach State* 7 p.m.

Feb. 22 at Hawaii* 9 p.m.

Feb. 27 vs. Cal Poly* 7 p.m.

March 1 vs. UC Santa Barbara* 7 p.m.

March 6 at UC Riverside* 7 p.m.

March 8 at UC Irvine* 7 p.m.

Mar. 13-15 Big West Tournament TBA

*Big West Conference game Call The Bee's Bill Paterson, (916) 326-5506.

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