UCI Attracts the Best Professionals; A Look at UCI’s Star Drawing Power

Where is Kobe Bryant’s training spot of choice? The ARC.

Where did Mark McGwire provide hitting lessons to Chris Duncan and Matt Holliday last offseason? Anteater Ballpark.

Where did Amare Stoudimire, Adrian Peterson, Troy Polamalu and other Nike athletes put on a clinic last spring? The Anteater track.

Where did the 2009 No. 2 ranked Texas Longhorns football team practice in the days leading up the National Championship game? Pretty much all of Crawford Hall and the fields surrounding it.

While UC Irvine isn’t attracting the same caliber of high school athletes as traditionally all-sports competitive athletic programs like Stanford and the University of Miami, professional athletes who are excelling at their respective sports recognize UCI as the place to be.

We can credit our attractiveness in large part to our location. We are an hour escape from the spotlight of Los Angeles, and have a noticeably better climate. It seems like a joke that we even allow scientists to classify this season as winter — pre-spring seems more appropriate. With that being said, watch it rain the day you pick up this paper.

Kobe Bryant, arguably one of the best athletes ever at his respective sport, lives in nearby Newport Beach and is good friends and training buddies with a coach on the UCI men’s basketball staff. Almost everyone and their moms have seen the Black Mamba in or around UCI. The important fact is that the NBA Champion, Olympic gold medalist and NBA MVP has the doors of any gym open for him, yet he prefers our gym. Hate him or love him, that’s still pretty cool.

McGwire recently made headlines with his infamous MLBtv interview with Bob Costas. Unless you are completely disconnected with sports, in which case you probably are not even reading this column, you know that one of the greatest home run hitters of all-time admitted to use of performance enhancing drugs. Recently accepting a job as the hitting coach for Tony LaRussa’s St. Louis Cardinals, McGwire must have realized that it would be better if he got this off his chest now rather than be harassed or haunted with questions at his new job. But who knows? Maybe he was pulling an Andre Agassi.

Nevertheless, McGwire’s steroid-use does not diminish his ability to hit. Steroids may provide the power and health, but talent is what separates you. If I were on steroids, I would be lucky to even make contact with Danny Bibona’s changeup.

McGwire wants to use that talent to help others. He showed that desire when he brought Matt Holliday and other major leaguers to Anteater ballpark for workouts before spring training.

While pro baseball players are making their way to Anteater Ballpark for workouts, top high school and junior college baseball talent is beginning to recognize UCI baseball as well. The Anteaters have made post-season appearances the last three years and were ranked number one in the nation for a good chunk of the season by Baseball America last season. Skipper Mike Gillespie has coached many pro talents including Mark Prior, Morgan Ensberg and Jeff Clement, and we hope he funnels out some more here at UCI.

So far, whatever success UCI has had athletically has come from players with chips on their shoulders who have been overlooked for various reasons by the big programs. The only program that has been consistently recruiting the best talent is men’s volleyball. Without the funds and support, it is tough to attract the top high school talent.

However, we are making do with our resources and not doing too bad of a job. Men’s volleyball is a powerhouse, and women’s volleyball under the new guidance of Paula Weishoff, who Kari Pestolesi calls the “female John Speraw,” looks to make a name for itself on the ladies side. Baseball is earning respect year by year with their hard-nosed fundamental play, and the men’s basketball team could explode any season.

The administration has done a good job of providing our programs with facilities, which should soon become attractive for both professional and prospective college athletes.