April 11, 2014
DAVIS, Calif. - Four appearances on national television, another trip to The Pavilion by ESPN2, new school and league records, two career 1,000-point performances, all-league accolades and the debuts of three impact freshmen were just a few of the highlights that took place throughout the 2013-14 season for UC Davis men’s basketball.
Following UC Davis men’s basketball’s impressive performance in front of a national audience when ESPN2 aired its first-ever game from The Pavilion last season, the network returned to Davis once against this year to broadcast the Aggies’ home finale against UC Santa Barbara. In front of another packed house, standout junior guard Corey Hawkins showed the country why he deserves back-to-back all-Big West recognition by finishing with a team-high 16 points and a game-high 10 free throws made.
Even with an injury-depleted lineup, UC Davis provided a stern test to the Big West’s regular season runners-up, giving ESPN every reason to return to campus to air additional home hoops games next year.
That game against the Gauchos was one of four nationally televised appearances for UC Davis throughout the 2013-14 season; other appearances took place when the Aggies traveled to Stanford, Utah and UC Irvine. In addition to those broadcasts, UC Davis also appeared in the first-ever league matchup on ESPN3. Part of its broadcast package with the four-lettered network and its sister stations, ESPN3 also covered the Aggies’ penultimate game of the season at UC Riverside prior to their appearance on Fox Sports Prime Ticket two days later.
Recorded at this season’s home Causeway Classic matchup, senior guard Ryan Sypkens became the 19th player in the program’s 102-year history, and the first of two Aggies to cross the 1,000-point threshold this season. In mid-February, Hawkins joined his teammate by scoring his 1,000th just before halftime when the Aggies visited Cal State Fullerton.
Already the school’s record holder for the most three-point field goals made in a single season (106) and career (220 and counting entering the 2013-14 campaign), Sypkens completed his three-point hat trick by setting a new school mark for the most threes made in a single game in his team’s final warm-up prior to league action.
Taking place in the Aggies’ first game of 2014, the senior guard hit 10 of 14 shots from behind the arc to shatter a six-way tie and set a new school record. Entering that Jan. 2 contest, Sypkens, Hawkins, Tyler Les and three others stood alongside one another in the program’s records book with eight treys each.
As the season progressed, Sypkens turned his sights towards the league’s records in an attempt to become one of the Big West’s most successful three-point shooters of all time. With the passing of each game, the Elk Grove-native inched his way past one person en route to the top spot; in the Aggies’ next-to-last game of the season, Sypkens stood alone as the league's most prolific sharpshooter when he drilled three baskets from three to capture the No. 1 spot.
Sypkens ends his career as an Aggie with 315 career three-point field goals.
Next Man Up
More than just a cliché, everyone on this year’s roster earned an opportunity to make significant contributions due to the number of games lost by multiple players to injury. What began with a season-ending injury suffered in the first week of fall practices by all-conference recipient J.T. Adenrele, continued once play began as a number of fixtures in UC Davis’ starting lineup were forced to the sidelines as the season progressed.
In all, 2013-14 returning starters and members of this year’s lineup missed 97 games.
Even though contributions from Adenrele, Josh Ritchart and others were missed, this situation provided all three Aggie freshmen a chance to accelerate their learning curve by playing a significant amount of minutes.
The Aggie faithful were able to watch guard Brynton Lemar develop before their own eyes; by sinking game-tying and/or game-winning shots on a regular basis, the San Diego native frustrated numerous opponents in his inaugural season at UC Davis.
Within a short amount of time, Lemar’s play-making abilities, speed, aggressiveness on both sides of the court and knack for sinking shots in clutch situations forced other teams to make uncomfortable decisions. Coaches could focus their attention on him and make him a sizable element of their game plan, or choose to play him straight up in an attempt to neutralize Lemar’s scoring potential.
Regardless of choice, the freshman guard effortlessly found holes and seams in the Aggies’ half of the court when on offense, and wide-open teammates whenever he was double, or even triple-teamed.
One of the Big West Conference’s top rebounders in his first season, Georgi Funtarov quickly adapted to the pace of Division I basketball. Hailing from Sofia, Bulgaria, the former member of his country’s U16 and U18 national team parlayed his international experience into permanent spot in the Aggies’ starting lineup.
Following his 13-point performance at home against Nevada, Funtarov was named a starter in his team’s next 21 consecutive games. Scattered throughout that timespan are eight double-digit scoring efforts; narrowly missing his first by finishing with 10 points and nine rebounds versus Simpson University, the freshman forward earned his first-ever collegiate double-double with his season-high 17 points and 10 rebounds to help his team record a sweep over Cal Poly–this year’s Big West Tournament champion and conference representative at the NCAA Tournament.
Able to score around the basket, and the perimeter, Funtarov provides UC Davis head coach Jim Les the ability to create favorable matchups on both ends of the floor. His height enables him to effectively defend, or maneuver around the paint; his agility and quickness enables him shut down small forwards and big men on one end of the court, and drive past them to the rim on the other.
Forced redshirt during his inaugural season on campus after suffering an injury last season, freshman point guard Darius Graham provided the perfect ending to his comeback efforts in the Aggies’ inaugural game of the season. In UC Davis’ season opener at Portland, the Sacramento native posted three new career highs by finishing with 12 points, on five field goals and two three-point buckets against the Pilots.
Graham’s durability, and competitive nature were on full display when UC Davis visited San Jose State–a non-conference tilt that quickly turned into a triple-overtime test of endurance. Throughout his 51 minutes logged against the Spartans–one of only two players from either team to earn 50 or more minutes of playing time (Hawkins and his 53 is the other)–Graham set another two career highs by scoring 16 points, including a game-high 12 from the free throw line.
Unlike his first year with Aggie men’s basketball, Graham competed in all 31 games this year.
Forced to play a significantly higher amount of minutes than originally expected, all three freshmen rose to the occasion this season. Combined, this trio is responsible for 23.1 points per game, 9.0 rebounds and 157 assists–figures that account for 33 pct. of the team’s offense, 31 pct. of rebounds recorded and 42 pct. of the Aggies’ assists.
Familiar Faces Return
Entering spring’s NCAA-regulated off-season workouts, both Adenrele and Ritchart are progressing through their respective rehab sessions nicely; both are ahead of schedule and should recover fully before the start of preseason practices. This news bodes well for Aggie men’s basketball as a collective 29.9 points and 12.5 rebounds per game were lost this season–and that does not include the amount of points and rebounds the two could have prevented by their defensive presence.
Even though the program lost one of its top three-point shooters due to graduation, the return of senior guard T. Les will help ease the sting of Sypkens’ absence. Coming off from his redshirt season, Les is just as dangerous from behind the arc and is ready to do whatever its takes to help UC Davis become a title contender in 2014-15 after watching the events of this last season take place from the sideline.