To the UC Irvine administration and athletics department, if you want the students and alumni to quit complaining about not having a football team, then you should focus on getting what you already have to an elite level.
Overall, you have done a pretty good job at this. You hired the amazing Coach John Speraw for our men’s volleyball team, who completed the five-year plan he told you about when he was a candidate, and looks to have the program headed in a direction where it will become a powerhouse.
The woman’s golf team is on the rise, and with the return of stars like Patty Chawalitmetha and Selanee Henderson they should replicate the success they had in last year’s NCAA postseason.
The women’s soccer and volleyball teams had a surge of youth in their fall campaigns, and they look to restock with impact recruits; it looks as if women’s soccer already has, and will come out strong again next year.
Perhaps the best investment made by the athletics program was in the baseball team. You made a great decision in hiring guru Head Coach Dave Serrano, who led the Anteaters to a top-four finish, and their first-ever birth to the College World Series. After Serrano unexpectedly left to take the more-respected Cal State Fullerton job, you were faced with your greatest problem yet. But you responded to it perfectly by hiring a top-notch coach, Mike Gillespie, who has significant post-season experience and has bred many Major Leaguers. Though the season has just begun, so far everything looks good as the Anteaters pummeled Nevada in last weekend’s opening series.
UCI has done a great job thus far by allowing its teams to compete with the best in almost every sport. However, the only spectator sport that has been handled well is baseball. Unfortunately, it takes a back seat to football in this country when it comes to college sports.
There is a sport that comes between college football and baseball, and it’s basketball.
Judging by the inconsistent success of the men’s basketball team this season and past, you need to do more to bring our team to the top 25.
Over the last 11 seasons, the basketball team’s winning percentage has barely been over .500. At a 165-152 record in those 11 seasons, the team has never had a breakout year and has never made it to the NCAA tournament. We always field a middle-tier team in the weak Big West conference, and it seems as if the team changes completely every year.
There isn’t a focus on recruiting young high-school talent. Instead, we always find ourselves stocked with junior college players who only have a year to adapt to the pace of division one basketball and then have to graduate the following year. This sort of distribution of a team forces the team to constantly rebuild itself.
The two current best players, Darren Fells and Patrick Sanders, are both talents who were recruited out of high school and groomed in the system. Therefore, they were given time to develop with the team, and as a result are two of the most dangerous players in the conference.
Last year, sophomore Michael Hunter put himself on the map with a stellar freshman campaign. He was one of the top Mid-major freshmen and looked to be a valuable player for the future. However, with the continuing rebuilding process, Hunter has been forced to produce or be benched, a process that does not allow him to develop more fully as a player.
I am not arguing that courting junior-college players is a bad idea. It worked with the legendary coach Bob Knight at Indiana, but even he only brought in two or three Juco players at the most. I feel that there should be a greater effort to bring in players who can blossom in the four years they are here at UCI, and an effort should be made to make the program more attractive to prospective players.
This season, the team has undoubtedly played one of its toughest schedules ever with match-ups against Nevada, Mississippi State and Texas A&M. And the team has a perfect 9-0 record at home. However, the team has lost 13 of 16 games on the road: most notably, last Wednesday’s loss to quite possibly the worst team in the Big West, UC Riverside. Losses like that make one question the motivation of the players and the chemistry of the team.
Though I can sit here and list all of my concerns with the team from the recruiting to the system, the best person to handle and assess the situation is you, the people in charge.
All I can say is that if you want to create a sense of unity on this campus, which many find to be very absent, you must make changes within the basketball program. Even if baseball stays at the top year after year, the postseason takes place when everyone is gone for the summer. Men’s college basketball goes on through the heart of the school year and is arguably one of the most popular sports in the country.
Schools like Duke, Kentucky, St. Josephs, Wake Forest and North Carolina have shown that having a successful basketball program overshadows the lack of a successful football team and creates tremendous school spirit and publicity.
The school has been breaking records for fundraising over the past few years, and I am sure that the students and alumni would appreciate a portion of the money going to a cause the whole Anteater family can rally around and be proud of. A basketball team that is on the map will bring UCI more publicity, more talented students and more funds.
Having an Anteater basketball team that would pose a threat to the elite teams in college basketball every year would bring the school benefits that would extend far beyond its imagination.