Hometown Report

Four local basketball players join scrum better known as March Madness

The UC Davis men’s basketball team, including senior guard and Sacramento native Darius Graham, center, celebrate Sunday, March 12, 2017, in Davis, Calif. The Aggies, who will play in the NCAA Tournament for the first time,will face North Carolina Central on Wednesday in one of the tournament’s four play-in games.
The UC Davis men’s basketball team, including senior guard and Sacramento native Darius Graham, center, celebrate Sunday, March 12, 2017, in Davis, Calif. The Aggies, who will play in the NCAA Tournament for the first time,will face North Carolina Central on Wednesday in one of the tournament’s four play-in games. lsterling@sacbee.com

Rest isn’t on the immediate menu for those about to embark on the grandest stage in college basketball.

But who’s complaining? Mounds of statistics and video will be studied and analyzed this week and beyond, the off-the-court version of March Madness.

“Sleep is overrated in March,” UC Davis coach Jim Les insisted Sunday, his grin masking a voice hoarse from a weekend of tense games in Anaheim.

The Aggies boarded a plane Monday morning called “Ag One.” It was bound for Dayton, Ohio, where UC Davis will play North Carolina Central in a “First Four” play-in game Wednesday for the right to play Kansas, the Midwest Region’s No. 1 seed, on Friday in Tulsa, Okla.

It’s the first NCAA Tournament venture for UCD, as it is for four area high school graduates starting at colleges across the country determined to extend their seasons.

Darius Graham, UC Davis – Diminutive but quick, Graham made a name for himself by hustling at Sacramento High School and caught the attention of coaches at UCD, the only Division I program to offer him a scholarship.

The 5-foot-10 senior guard earned back-to-back Big West Conference ‘Hustle Player of the Year” accolades, an underdog done good.

“I used to drive by UCD and not even think about basketball, and now I drive by and the school means everything to me,” said Graham, averaging 7.5 points. “And you know in March Madness, anything can happen.”

Cam Oliver, Nevada – A 6-8 sophomore forward from Grant, Oliver can be as good as he wants to be, according to his coach, Eric Musselman. It appears Oliver wants to be great.

A thunderous dunker on the break, Oliver averages 15.8 points and 8.7 rebounds. He scored 27 points in an 83-72 win over Fresno State in a Mountain West Conference semifinal, and he’s assumed a leadership role, rallying the Wolf Pack from a 32-21 halftime deficit in that game.

“I just told the guys, ‘have pride,’ ” Oliver said.

Nevada is in the NCAA Tournament for the first time in 10 years. The 12th-seeded Bulldogs will open against No. 5 Iowa State on Thursday in Milwaukee.

D.J. Wilson, Michigan – Wilson burst onto the regional scene at Capital Christian, elevating a program from small-school status to the prestigious CIF Open Division as a senior. His efforts helped him become the first area player to attend a Big Ten basketball program on a scholarship.

Wilson is a 6-10 junior forward averaging 10.6 points. He can shoot the 3-pointer, finish above the rim and block shots. He had 26 points, eight rebounds and three blocks in a victory over top-seeded Purdue in the Big Ten quarterfinals. After the win, Michigan teammate Derrick Walton Jr., called Wilson, “a Swiss Army knife .... he’s so versatile and so talented.”

The No. 7 Wolverines play 10th-seeded Oklahoma State on Friday in a Midwest Region opener in Indianapolis, hopeful of a safe landing after players had their hearts nearly pound out of their chests last week. En route to the Big Ten Tournament, Michigan’s team plane skidded off the runway in Ypsilanti, Mich., the pilot hitting the brakes due to heavy winds. The aircraft slid off the end of the runway and through a fence, just short of a ravine.

Michigan’s equipment, including its game uniforms, was stuck in the plane’s undercarriage, so the Wolverines beat Illinois wearing their practice uniforms.

Solomon Young, Iowa State – The Bee’s 2015-16 Player of the Year from Sacramento High has emerged as a defensive stalwart for the Cyclones.

Young had three of his five blocked shots in the opening minutes of an 84-63 win over TCU in a Big 12 semifinal. The 6-8 forward finished game with nine points and nine rebounds. Young became a starter on Feb. 11, providing his team with jolt of energy that belies his low-key nature.

“He’s just a great player,” Iowa State guard Matt Thomas told Iowa State media last week. “A great competitor.”

Said Young: “I’m a chill dude on and off the court. I try to keep my head. That’s just my personality.”

Before becoming head coach at Nevada, Musselman was an assistant at Arizona State and was hot on Young’s recruiting trail.

“He’s so tough and active” Musselman said back then. “I’d hate to play against him.”

Musselman’s Wolf Pack will do just that on Friday.

Joe Davidson: 916-321-1280, @SacBee_JoeD

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