Men’s basketball hopes for a fresh start

UC Davis men’s basketball is ready to bury the memories of last year and start winning.

After finishing last year’s season with a dismal 5-26 record, head coach Jim Les had some restructuring to do. He started by recruiting some promising young talent to help fill the holes in last year’s roster.

Ultimately, the Aggies have to step up their game on both sides of the court. A winning percentage of .161 is the result of a lackluster defense and an unproductive offense.

The biggest focus for UC Davis is offensive production. Last year, Aggie opponents averaged 74.4 points per game while UC Davis’ offense only managed 62 points a game.

That 12-point margin needs to close if the team wants to add some more wins to their record this year. Luckily, the Aggies have an excellent offensive threat.

Junior Tyler Les received national recognition for his talents in a recent CBSSports.com ranking. The coach’s son was named the 35th best shooter in the nation on the preseason list of NCAA players.

Tyler was certainly productive last year, boasting a .833 free throw percentage and was the Aggies’ leading scorer title in seven games last season.

“I’m proud of Tyler because I know he’s put in a lot of time and effort and hard work,” coach Les said.

While Tyler is a weapon, he cannot carry the Aggies alone. Other players will need to step it up and force defenses to shut down multiple threats, not just their shooting guard.

While speaking about his son’s recent honor, Coach Les highlighted the importance of the team effort and the team result.

“I know he’s [Tyler] appreciative to be recognized on a national level. Now we want to do it collectively for the accolades that our team can achieve.”

Coach Les is certainly looking for an offense that will highlight UC Davis’ talents in a much more positive light this year.

“We want to make UC Davis basketball relevant on a national scale,” he said.

To accomplish that, they will need a stronger defense as well. UC Davis went 3-13 in Big West conference play last year and their only wins came at home. Teams often play their best at home but it is imperative that they can win on the road.

Two of  Coach Les’ new additions to the roster are freshmen guards coming from extremely successful high school programs. Freshman Olivier Paul-Betu hails from Massachusetts where he earned ESPN recognition as one of the best players in New England. Fellow freshman Darius Graham had a much shorter commute to UC Davis.

Graham is a proud alumni of the Sacramento High team that made the NorCal regional finals in 2010. His outstanding junior and senior seasons earned him a spot on the All-Metro Conference team.

This year’s squad is full of fresh faces and new talents, but it is aimed at regaining some of the glory UC Davis basketball held when Mark Payne and Joe Harden used to dominate the court.

Their schedule is kind this year and it lets UC Davis unveil their new squad at home. The Aggies’ first few games are at home which will allow them to formulate a positive chemistry in front of a supportive crowd.

UC Davis’ first opponent is Division III foe UC Santa Cruz. The Banana Slugs were 12-10 last year and managed 70 points per game.

UC Santa Cruz is a fair representative of the conference opponents UC Davis will face later on in the season so this is a perfect opportunity for them to test out their new squad and figure out what improvements still need to be made.

While the Aggies may enjoy their games at home, they will eventually have to play on the road. Last year’s squad only earned one victory on the road and this will be another big test for the team.

The players are ready and the coaches are excited about the prospect of a new season.

Can the Aggies turn it around this year? They certainly have the talent necessary to do so. It all boils down to their ability to come together and play well in every game.

KIM CARR can be reached at sports@theaggie.org.

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