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As the UC Irvine men’s basketball team prepared to face off against the Nevada Wolf Pack in their 2012-2013 season-opener, senior Daman Starring emerged from the hallways of the Bren Events Center alone — one hour before the teams are expected on the court — ready to begin his final season as an Anteater with one goal in mind.

“[Going to the NCAA Tournament] is our main goal, and we believe we are fully capable of doing that this year,” says Starring, who, at 24 years old, is the oldest player on the Anteater roster. After three seasons in the program, Starring has transitioned into the role of the go-to guy for the Anteaters this season.

On that night, he recorded a career-high 25 points, leading the way for the Anteaters in their first win of the season. Still, Starring wouldn’t consider himself the team’s star player.

“I don’t even think I am [the star player],” Starring humbly says. “If it wasn’t for the other guys on the team, I wouldn’t be doing what I am doing. There’s nothing I am doing that’s spectacular or special.”

It’s this type of selfless attitude and team-oriented character that has permeated the team’s locker room and has the Anteaters in a strong position to make a legitimate push towards the Big Dance.

Starring is the only Anteater averaging double figures in scoring this season with 13.4 points per game. To put that in perspective, former UCI players Darren Moore and Eric Wise averaged 17.0 and 16.3 points per contest during the 2010-2011 season — Starring’s first season at UCI after transferring from Centenary College in Louisiana. The team finished with a 13-19 record and failed to reach the Big West Tournament in Russell Turner’s first season as the head coach.

“That first year was a tough transition. I came in as a transfer. [I] didn’t come in with a freshman class. [I] didn’t have that group of friends that you come in with initially. Everybody had established their own group of friends. It was a tough first [few] months for me to adjust, both in basketball and socially.

“For me, that was a completely different team than I’ve ever been used to. It was less of a cohesive unit and more of an individualized team. It was a tough year for me as a player because I wasn’t used to that.

“The closest I came to quitting basketball was the first year I came here.”

With the departure of the Anteaters’ three top scorers after the 2010 season, the team was left with no seniors, looming uncertainty and a lack of identity.

The experience, however, taught Starring how not to play as a team and led the Anteaters to adopt a different style of play — one that was more team-oriented.

“There [are] times when I think he plays too unselfishly,” head coach Russell Turner said. “That’s not criticism, it’s just his personality; he’s a very giving teammate. So getting him to assert himself more consistently is his challenge.”

Currently, the Anteaters rank eighth in the nation in assists per game at 17.5 — a true testament of the team’s unselfishness and willingness to share the ball with one another.

Serving as a captain for Turner, Starring has made his biggest contributions beyond the basketball court, however.

“I try to lead through example,” Starring said. “A lot of it is on the court, but a lot of it pertains to off the court stuff too.”

“He’s taught me a lot of things, mostly off the court stuff, like proper etiquette,” Derick Flowers, Starring’s backcourt companion and teammate for the past three years, said.

“We call him the fossil of the team. He’s a man. He’s really taught me how to carry myself as a man off the court.”

Starring’s charismatic character and maturity has helped spark an entirely new culture and identity for the Anteaters men’s basketball team — one that reflects the future of the UCI program.

“[Daman] is like my big brother,” freshman point guard Alex Young said. “I appreciate everything he’s done for me. I know he’s looking out for me. He’s been a great help for me since I’ve been here.”

“If you could tell from the first year I was here to now, it’s a completely different team,” Starring said. “The guys are approachable; they’re fun to be around. I feel like before the basketball team had a bad reputation of walking around and thinking they were ‘it.’ I feel like the guys now have done a really good job of changing that.”

“We don’t think we’re different than anyone else,” the senior guard said.

Starring’s maturity and wisdom, conversely, comes from a great deal of struggles and adversity. He has had his share of personal trials and tribulations throughout his life beginning at a young age. All of his experiences have contributed to the type of person he is today.

His father, Stephen Starring, is most notably known for his time spent playing wide receiver in the NFL as a member of the New England Patriots. Starring was a member of the franchise’s first-ever Super Bowl appearance in 1985. But his athletic ability didn’t translate to good fatherhood.

“My dad was verbally and physically abusive to me and my mom. It prepared me emotionally and mentally to be able to deal with issues that were going to happen in life.

“[My dad] was always in and out of our lives — he was addicted to crack. I haven’t spoken to him since I was about 10 [years old].”

Growing up in a single parent home could be extremely tough for a child, but with strong support from his mother Tammy Starring, a prominent business woman and entrepreneur in her own right, his grandparents, and other male figures in his family, Starring was able to overcome this obstacle early in his life.

“[My mom’s] my biggest role model, considering all the things she had to go through. I never had a strong father figure, so she played the roles of mom and dad.

“[She] has never missed one of my basketball games in my life. I’m a big momma’s boy,” Starring said with a proud grin.

Starring’s character would once again be tested, however. This time as a 17-year-old member of the Sierra Vista High School basketball team in Las Vegas.

On March 23, 2006, Starring was accused of sexually assaulting a younger basketball player during a suspected team hazing incident at the school that resulted in his expulsion. He was arrested and taken county juvenile jail, where he would later be released on house arrest.

“It was a really outlandish situation,” Starring, who on the record denied all accusations, said. “They asked me to plea down three times but I refused to because I didn’t do anything.”

Two months later, in June 2006, Starring was found not guilty of sexual assault charges, but was found guilty on one charge of open and gross lewdness and one charge of battery, despite minimal evidence proving Starring was guilty of any the allegations.

“If you know me, you know that I would never do anything like that,” Starring said.

The issue raised concerns this season when the Anteaters traveled to Las Vegas to take on the UNLV Runnin’ Rebels in a non-conference matchup on November 28. UNLV’s student section “The Rebellion” had become well aware of the legal issue leading up to the game, and fears that the crowd would take their chants too far arose.

Despite the controversy, Starring ended the night with a team-high 18 points in the Anteaters 85-57 loss. After the game, Starring responded with the class and dignity we’ve all come to expect.

“I was happy to be home, and it was nice to play in front of family and friends,” he said. “UNLV is a great team. The stuff from (opposing students) is all part of our sport. It happens.”

When it’s all said and done, Starring will be remembered for much more than his performance on the court, as there’s also his impact on the jumpstart of the UCI men’s basketball program.

Starring has definitely succeeded in demonstrating the importance of character in a successful team. One can only hope the younger players on the team have taken notice.

“[At the end of the day] I want to be someone that everyone enjoyed being around — a positive person. I hope nobody thinks anything negative of me. I try to treat everybody as I would want to be treated. I want to leave a good legacy that people can appreciate and respect to where I can have a positive impact on people’s lives.”

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