Nov. 12, 2009
DAVIS, Calif. - With the return of two All-Big West selections and a fifth-year senior, there is plenty of optimism for the 2009-10 UC Davis men's basketball season. The Aggies have one of the most experienced returning cores in the Big West and will also rely heavily on a number of redshirt and true freshmen. Head coach Gary Stewart enters his seventh season at the helm and calls this year's team the deepest he has had at UC Davis.
Unlike last year's squad that featured five seniors, this year's version includes just one. Dominic Calegari, who redshirted his true freshman season, enters his final season with the program. He's coming off a junior season in which he averaged 11.0 points and 4.4 rebounds per game. Over the past two years, Calegari is averaging 10.3 points and 4.1 rebounds.
A pair of juniors as also drawn the attention of the Big West and beyond. Joe Harden and Mark Payne were both Second-Team All-Big West selections as sophomores and were two of six players named to the Preseason Media All-Big West Team. Additionally, Payne was named the Preseason Big West Player of the Year by the Blue Ribbon College Basketball Yearbook. Harden averaged 14.8 points and a team-high 7.2 rebounds last year in his first Aggie season. Payne was also in double figures with 10.4 points per game to go along with 5.8 rebounds. He also led the Aggies in field goal percentage, assists and steals.
"I'm really excited about the direction the program is headed," said Stewart. "We've got a nucleus to build around with (Calegari, Harden and Payne) and a promising group of newcomers that collectively make up the best depth we've had. It's the most versatile group we've had in our young Division I tenure."
The trio of Calegari, Harden and Payne accounted for 48 percent of the Aggies' scoring in 2008-09. They also combined to start every game they played in. Calegari and Harden were two of three Aggies to start all 32 games while Payne started the 29 he appeared in.
"There's no substitute for experience. Those guys have played in conference play, post-season conference play, in preseason against teams from the Pac-10, SEC, and Big 12. They have a plethora of high-profile games under their belts. Not only are they experienced, it also aids the young guys who haven't gone through that. They can expound on the lessons learned and help the young players."
Beyond the returning core of upperclassmen, only three Aggies return with playing experience from a year ago. Ryan Silva (Jr, G), Todd Lowenthal (Jr, G) and Adam Malik (So, G) combined for three starts and just under 12-percent of the team's scoring in 2008-09. Each of those three individuals saw action in at least 25 games with Lowenthal playing in all 32 games with three starts. A group of six newcomers will also look to play a significant role this season. Three redshirted in their true freshman season a year ago, one transferred in during the season and two more are true freshmen.
"The thing for us is consistency," said Stewart. "It's getting the young players to compete at the level they need to compete at night in and night out and then getting the core to be a rock where you know what you're going to get from that group. As we get further along in this, I am hopeful those things will manifest themselves in a positive way."
Stewart believes this year's Big West is the toughest he's seen in his previous six seasons at UC Davis. The Aggies will look to build upon last year's 7-9 mark in the conference that tied them for seventh. That doesn't take into account the team was near the top of the standings for much of the season.
"When talking about improvement of our basketball team and where we are, you have to factor in your opponent because they're allowed to improve too," said Stewart. "This year, I think top to bottom is the toughest conference I've been associated with since I've been at UC Davis. That's what's going to be so much fun is not only taking care of your business, but every night on every floor the potential for either team to win is great. That bodes well down the road for an exciting conference."