In this, my last column, it’s time to reflect. In these four years, much has happened. In honor of the men’s volleyball team’s fourth national championship and my four years of college, here are some lists of fours.
My four favorite players:
4. Matt Whitehouse: He was always there for a quote. He’s a good guy, a genuine guy.
3. Alex Young/Derick Flowers: The two players who occupied the point position for the men’s basketball team this year, Flowers carried himself well despite being unseated by a freshman. And if you’re going to lose your spot to someone, you couldn’t lose it to a nicer guy than Young. In my experience, both guys were class acts.
2. David Kniffin: Coach Kniffin’s players are in awe of their coach, both as a father to his three-year-old daughter, as their friend and as their boss. He takes each athlete out at least once a week to talk about life off the court. Many coaches don’t have a clue what their players are up to off the court or the field, but Kniffin truly cared to be there for each and every one of his players. If you ever stop by Britta’s Café at University Town Center and spot Kniffin, he’ll probably be talking to Britta or one of the waiters as if they’ve known each other since childhood.
1. Mike Wilder: One of the most genuine people you’ll meet on this campus and in life. Wilder never failed to deliver on the court or off it. He’s the type of guy who wants to look into your eyes for a few seconds when shaking your hand to let you know that you matter. Kind, respectful and intelligent, Wilder was a pleasure to cover and to get to know. A few weeks back, I watched Wilder play coed intramural volleyball at the ARC and couldn’t help but wonder how fun it would be to see him as a reserve on Kniffin’s volleyball team.
Four changes I’d make:
4. Football. Seriously. It would likely require the addition of a softball program and a women’s swim and dive team in order to comply with Title IX regulations, but out of all of the Orange County millionaires, who wouldn’t want to bring the first major football team to Orange County? At some point, it needs to be explored. Donald Bren has to have a few spare millions for Bren Football Stadium after investing in the Bren Events Center, the UCI School of Law and the School of Information and Computer Sciences. Millionaires, please pony up for OC football, so you’ll never have to deal with LA and San Diego traffic to see pigskins fly.
3. Invest in men’s volleyball. UCLA has the tradition and funding. They likely offer every coach a house in Bel Air and a sweet set of wheels. You can’t blame John Speraw for leaving. While basketball seems to be UCI’s focus, because it generates more ticket revenue, we have to secure David Kniffin for men’s volleyball. Without Speraw, there was a temporary panic. Without Kniffin, the dynasty might fall.
2. Cicerone Field is not so student-friendly. The huge hill along the right field line is uncomfortable. For kids, it’s a playground, but for students, it’s where they are arbitrarily designated when entering the ballpark. Students should have the chance to sit in the seats. If there aren’t enough seats for the students, then it’s a good time to expand the ballpark’s capacity vertically, surrendering part of the picturesque view for more fanfare.
1. Walking around UCLA’s Pauley Pavilion or USC’s Galen Center, you notice the history of the two programs. At UCI, you see pictures hanging near the locker rooms, where few spectators have access. Those pictures commemorate our few basketball players who have made it to the NBA, but nowhere around the arenas or ballparks do you get a good sense of who the great Anteaters of the recent past and present are.
Charles Jock was one of the more recognizable Anteaters in recent memory, which would make for a great life-sized mural either inside or outside of the arena. At Angel Stadium in Anaheim, the Halos promote Jered Weaver, Albert Pujols, Mike Trout, Josh Hamilton, Mark Trumbo and CJ Wiilson with a large mural at the front of the stadium. As the players change, the faces change. It doesn’t even have to be the same sport. Charles Jock, Andrew Thurman, Mike Wilder and Carson Clark are all worthy.
Maybe you put it at the student entrance of the Bren Events Center, creating a timeline of UCI greats, educating students of Anteaters through the ages, or somewhere on campus — perhaps the Student Center. But when a spectator walks into the Bren Events Center, they should know who the dominant Anteaters are, from Steve Scott and Scott Brooks to Charles Jock and Andrew Thurman. We’re young, but let’s start the timeline.
My four favorite moments:
4. The two volleyball national championships in the past two years were special. I’ll admit that they’re two of the three volleyball matches I’ve ever covered, with the third being this year’s NCAA Tournament semifinal. I lucked out covering both titles, and seeing the transition from John Speraw to David Kniffin. With Kniffin, the dynasty continues. He’s selfless, taking a pay cut to go from the University of Illinois’ women’s volleyball team’s assistant coach to the defending men’s volleyball national championship team’s head coach. He also fought to considerably improve his assistant coaches’ salaries. That should tell you a thing or two about Kniff. Hopefully he’s here to stay. Lock him up, UCI.
3. In September, I sat down with Oklahoma City Thunder Coach Scott Brooks at the athletic department’s annual charity golf tournament. Brooks, a former Anteater, struck me as absolutely normal. If you sat next to him on a subway, you’d have no clue that he coached Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. He’s the definition of class, and he’s one of the best ambassadors for UCI Athletics that there is.
2. A high-five from Kobe. Last year, Kobe Bryant came to UCI and raised money for tornado victims in Missouri as part of Extreme Makeover Home Edition’s series finale. After playing one-on-one with students, Kobe went to the opposite hoop to shoot a commercial and clips for the program. On his way over, I jogged over and stuck out my left hand. Before security guards could usher the crowd back to the east end of the Bren, I got a high-five from Kobe.
1. Standing in line in the restroom at Cicerone Field, I notice play-by-play announcer Mark Roberts at one of the urinals. Outside, the Anteaters are up to bat and he’s not at the microphone. It’s the bottom of the seventh inning on May 27, 2011. Irvine is up 2-0 against Long Beach State, but none of the men in line are mentioning the obvious highlight of the game so far — they wouldn’t dare.
“Who’s calling the game if you’re in here?” one fan asked, laughing.
“I’m taking my break now, because I need to be back for the top of the inning. You know what’s going on out there,” Roberts replies.
That evening, I walked into the ballpark with a feeling. Matt Summers had been sharp in his past few starts and had nearly missed out on a no-hitter at UC Riverside the previous weekend. As I walked into the stadium, I decided to grab a free ticket stub with my student ID, even though I had a press pass. I slid it into my right pocket and then headed to the press box, where I had never covered a game before, and still haven’t since then. That night I sat next to Daily Pilot reporter Barry Faulkner.
“Summers might throw a no-no one of these days, maybe tonight,” Faulkner said.
I had used up every sheet of notebook paper I had as finals week of my sophomore year approached. I dug through my backpack to find a bluebook. That night I kept score in a bluebook, and recorded Matt Summers’ no-hitter from an acrobatic leap off the mound to keep the Dirtbags off base, to D.J. Crumlich calling for and making the final out in shallow left field. All the stars aligned on that night.
When Summers was answering interview questions with Faulkner and me, Evan Brock approached from behind, relying on us reporters’ straight faces to not give it away. Brock smeared a shaving cream pie all over Summers’ face. A month later, he was drafted by the Minnesota Twins. As I left the ballpark with quotes in my bluebook, the song “School’s Out for Summer” came on. I stopped, realizing that Summers was going to leave UCI for the draft, and scratched “School’s Out For Summers” as the title for the no-hitter article, then walked all the way home to VDC after realizing the Friday night buses were out of service.
It was all worth it.
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