UC Davis men’s basketball coach Jim Les says this is “by far” the most athletic team he has had since taking the helm five seasons ago.
It also ranks as one of his most experienced, with three returning starters and eight others who played or redshirted last season.
Team leaders and former area prep standouts J.T. Adenrele and Darius Graham are in their sixth and fifth seasons, respectively, after being sidelined because of knee injuries.
The Aggies also got a chance to jump-start the season with 10 home practices and played three games during a weeklong tour of Costa Rica in late August.
So those factors have Les optimistic despite a challenging nonconference schedule and a Big West Conference race in which the Aggies have been picked to finish fifth among the nine teams in the media’s preseason poll.
“Looking at our team and the experience and the veteran leadership we have, I’m going to be surprised and disappointed if we are not competing for our second title in the last three years,” Les said. “So that’s our goal.”
Two seasons ago, UCD enjoyed one of the best seasons in school history, certainly since moving to Division I. The Aggies went 25-7 overall (14-0 at home) and won the Big West regular-season title. UCD reached the postseason for the first time in D-I, losing to Stanford in a National Invitation Tournament opener.
Les likely will know just how good this team is by the Big West opener Jan. 4 against UC Santa Barbara at the Pavilion.
The Aggies play 12 of their 15 nonconference games on the road or at neutral sites. They open the season against Tennessee State on Friday in the Cable Car Classic at Santa Clara. The Aggies will play in the Great Alaska Shootout in Anchorage on Nov. 24-26, opening against defending Big Sky Conference champion Weber State. The Aggies also play at Cal on Dec. 10.
“It’s just hard getting home games,” Les said. “I’m not happy about it as far as servicing our fans and letting them see our guys. But in attacking a schedule like this, I’d want to do it with this group. They’re mature, and they’re together.”
One neutral site game at least is expected to produce a large UCD crowd. The Aggies will play Sacramento State on Nov. 21 at Golden 1 Center in a doubleheader that also features Cal against San Diego State. Those will be the first college games at the Kings’ new home.
While Graham, as a Sacramento native, has that game penciled on his calendar, he is also looking forward to being a road warrior.
“It’s going to be real challenging,” he said. “But I think that’s going to be good for us. It’s going to create a lot of adversity and we’re going to have to be able to overcome (that). We have two real high-end tournaments that I think are going to be good to prepare us for the Big West tournament.”
Les will rely heavily on Graham (Sacramento High School) and Adenrele (Oakmont). The 5-foot-10 Graham is the point guard, and the 6-7 Adenrele is the power forward.
“Darius defensively is one of the better on-ball defenders on the West Coast,” Les said. “He makes the other four guys around him better defenders. But now I’m also seeing more confidence in him as an offensive player. He’s shooting the ball at a high level.”
Les said Adenrele is showing no ill effects after his second knee surgery last year.
“He’s as dynamic and explosive as he’s always been, but now he brings a maturity and IQ to his game that is going to make him a force to be reckoned with in our conference,” Les said.
Les expects the Aggies to improve on offense and defense with seniors Brynton Lemar and Lawrence White and sophomores Siler Schneider and Garrison Goode joining Graham and Adenrele to form an experienced core.
Redshirts Chima Moneke and Joe Mooney, community college transfer Arell Hennings and freshman Mikey Henn are expected to bring important attributes to the Aggies this season. The 6-8 Henn and the 6-6 Moneke bring physicality and athletic ability, the 6-3 Mooney is the deep long-distance threat and the 5-8 Hennings offers quickness and playmaking skills.
“The level of success they will have will be determined by our defense,” Les said. “But I think our fans are going to like the exciting brand of basketball in the open floor. These guys are fun to watch.”
DATE OPPONENT TIME
Cable Car Classic (Nov. 11-13 at Santa Clara)
Nov. 11 vs. Tennessee State 4:30 p.m.
Nov. 12 vs. Santa Clara 6 p.m.
Nov. 13 vs. Northern Arizona noon
Nov. 17 Holy Names 7 p.m.
Causeway Cup (Nov. 21 at Golden 1 Center)
Nov. 21 vs. Sacramento State, 5:30 p.m.
Great Alaska Shootout (Nov. 24-26 at Alaska Anchorage)
Nov. 24 vs. Weber State 9 p.m.
Nov. 25 vs. Drake/Iona TBA
Nov. 26 vs. TBD TBA
Dec. 3 at Idaho 7 p.m.
Dec. 10 at Cal 7:30 p.m.
Dec. 14 at North Dakota State 5 p.m.
Dec. 17 William Jessup 2 p.m.
Dec. 22 at Air Force 1 p.m.
Dec. 28 at Seattle 7 p.m.
Dec. 31 Utah Valley 2 p.m.
Jan. 4 UC Santa Barbara* 7 p.m.
Jan. 7 Cal Poly (DH)* 5 p.m.
Jan. 12 at UC Riverside* 8 p.m.
Jan. 14 at CSU Northridge* 7 p.m.
Jan. 21 at Hawaii* 9 p.m.
Jan. 28 vs. UC Irvine (DH)* 5 p.m.
Feb. 2 at Cal Poly* 7 p.m.
Feb. 4 at UC Santa Barbara* 7 p.m.
Feb. 8 CSU Fullerton* 7 p.m.
Feb. 11 UC Riverside (DH)* 5 p.m.
Feb. 16 at Long Beach State* 7 p.m.
Feb. 18 at CSU Fullerton* 7 p.m.
Feb. 23 CSU Northridge* 7 p.m.
Feb. 25 Long Beach State (DH)* 5 p.m.
March 2 Hawaii* 7 p.m.
March 4 at UC Irvine* 7 p.m.
* Big West Conference game
(DH) Doubleheader with women’s team
NO. NAME POS. HT. YR.
0 Brynton Lemar G 6-4 SR
1 Lawrence White G 6-4 SR
2 Darius Graham G 5-10 SR
4 Arell Hennings G 5-8 JR
5 Siler Schneider G 6-3 SO
11 Chima Moneke F 6-6 JR
12 Georgi Funtarov F 6-8 SR
13 J.T. Adenrele F 6-7 SR
22 Joe Mooney G 6-3 FR
23 Rogers Printup G 6-4 SO
24 Mikey Henn F 6-8 FR
25 AJ John F 6-8 JR
31 Michael Onyebalu G 6-3 JR
40 Peter Hewitt F 6-9 FR
44 Garrison Goode F 6-7 SO