The UC Irvine men’s basketball season ended the way it began: with a loss. On this night, it was to UC Davis with the score 69-68. This was the third time the Anteaters played Davis and the third time they lost, but amongst the numbers is the tremendous effort the Anteaters gave and the questionable finish.
UCI led for nearly the entire second half with comfortable leads up to 9 points, but it was a questionable call by the official in that the defensive post late in the game that decided the ball game.
Most coaches and sports purists will tell you that an official should aid the contest and allow players to decide the outcome. With that being said, a call late in the game allowed Davis, who was down by one, to go to the foul line. Mark Payne connected on both free throws to put Davis ahead by 1 point. The Anteaters’ entire season came down to one possession eight seconds left, score or go home. Davis, armed with fouls to give without putting the Anteaters on the free throw line, made this task even more difficult. Junior guard Michael Hunter did all he could, but his deep jump shot did not fall and the Anteaters lost in the first round of the Big West Conference Tournament and finished their season with a record of 12-19 overall.
Despite the difficult loss and the sub-par season, the future still looks bright for the Anteaters. Sadly, the end of the season marks the end of the college careers of seniors Brett Lauer and Kevin Bland. Lauer’s enthusiasm and 3-point shot will be missed, along with Bland and his Big West Conference high in double-doubles and overall leadership. With these two losses, the Anteaters will have to fill key spots, but luckily for Coach Pat Douglass, there will be many returning players with great experience.
Douglass will have four outstanding players in the backcourt, each with unique skill sets at his disposal. Junior guards Michael Hunter and Darren Moore will return as well as sophomore guard Patrick Rembert and red-shirt freshman Derrick Strings.
Hunter is a quick guard who can score and is always a threat to steal the ball. Moore, a junior college transfer this year who injured his knee, has the ability to be leader at both ends of the court.
Rembert is a strong floor general whose game would remind some of the NBA’s Andre Miller, and to borrow a phrase from the K1 kickboxing announcer, Rembert “has more ‘mussels’ than a seafood platter.” By the time the season starts next year Rembert may challenge Hulk Hogan’s “24-inch pythons” (bicep muscles). Strings is a great shooter who can do it all, and will continue to improve as he gets more experience.
At the wing position, junior guard Chad DeCasas should see the bulk of the playing time as he enters his final season with the Anteaters.
In the frontcourt, the Anteaters return freshman phenom Eric Wise, who took the Big West Conference by storm in his first season, and will continue to improve and will give opponents fits in the trenches every game as he plays next season.
In addition to Wise the Anteaters will return Junior Zack Atkinson and freshman Adam Folker. Atkinson has unlimited potential and if he even scratches the surface of his potential, this young man will be a fan favorite. Folker is a YouTube star with his highlight video from his days playing in Canada. Folker will continue to improve and give the Anteaters depth upfront.
The Anteaters also return a handful of freshman, any of whom could become breakthrough performers given the right circumstance.
On to my favorite part of the equation: recruiting. The Anteaters have signed three players thus far, headlined by two junior college transfers from Butte Community College Pavol Losonsky is listed at 6 feet 8 inches and 230 pounds, and Peter Simek is listed at 6 feet 9, inches 245 pounds. If these players game is as big as their size UCI might be a pre-season favorite to win the Big West.
The Big West conference is a toss-up almost every year, who ever is hot at the end will prevail.