One Small Step for (M)Anteaters
RECAP: The ’Eaters finished a remarkable and storied season with their first postseason appearance since 2002.
After giving Long Beach State all they could handle in the semifinals of the 2012 Big West Tournament,, UCI started to catch people’s attention.
One year later, UCI found themselves just one win away from winning its first Big West Tournament and dancing into the first round of the NCAA tournament for the first time in school history. Irvine came one win short, but their season was far from a disappointment.
Their run to the postseason came as no surprise — we sort of anticipated this. As starting center Adam Folker said on the night of Shocktoberfest, “Times are changing at UCI.”
In UCI’s first home exhibition match against Vanguard, the Anteaters put 101 points on the board in front of a crowd of 846 at the Bren Events Center. In their final home game of the regular season, UCI defended their home court on their way to a 9-0 home conference record in front of 3,035 strong, who rushed the court in celebration of the Anteaters’ first victory over Long Beach State since 2010.
While the team failed to accomplish their ultimate goal of reaching the round of 64 teams in the NCAA tournament, this Anteater team has much to be proud of. The 2013 team matched the accomplishments of some of the best teams this school has ever seen.
Their 21 victories this season tied for third-most in school history. Their performance in the regular season also made them eligible to participate in the CollegeInsider.com Postseason Tournament, giving UCI its first appearance in a postseason game since losing to BYU in the first round of the NIT in 2002.
No player on the UCI roster had even been born the last time the program had won a postseason game. On March 20, 2013, the program celebrated its first postseason game since 1986 with an 80-71 victory over High Point University in a home game that, fittingly, was played in the historic Crawford Hall.
UCI sophomore forward Will Davis II set a new school record for blocked shots in a season with 88, obliterating the record he set just a year ago of 55. Davis, who was named the Big West Best Defensive Player, was also named to the Big West Tournament All-Team, alongside teammates Daman Starring and Alex Young, for his breakout performance in the tournament. He recorded a career-high 32 points and 14 rebounds in the Anteater’s postseason win over High Point University.
Speaking of Alex Young, he was named the Big West Freshman of the Year after setting a UCI single-season record with 132 assists. He became only the fourth UCI freshman to ever receive the honor. It is almost scary to think how good this kid will be in the years to come.
Davis and Young will serve as the nucleus of the squad for the next couple years, but one cannot say enough about the legacy left behind by this year’s senior class. The impact these four players made during their stay at UCI goes beyond the stat sheets and record books. Their contributions will be seen in the character and future success of this program.
Adam Folker will go down into the record books ranked 12th in UCI history with his 500-plus rebounds, but his achievements off the court may one day overshadow his performance on the basketball court.
Michael Wilder finished his career at UCI ranking third all-time in three-pointers made, but his iconic afro hairstyle will undoubtedly rank No. 1 all-time in program history.
Daman Starring scored 1,012 points in his UCI career and his 144 career threes were enough to rank him seventh all-time, while Derick Flowers’ energy and infectious attitude will always be remembered on and off the court by those who had the opportunity to be around him.
These players have created the blueprint at UCI of what a student-athlete should look like, and for that, I say thank you to them.
It will be interesting to see what the program will look like next season. With Chris McNealy set to be the only senior, it may be a couple years before the Anteaters have another shot at the NCAA tournament. As we all anticipate the arrival of the 7-foot-5-inch tall freshman Mamadou Ndiaye, we think back at how memorable this past season has been in setting the foundation for the future of UC Irvine basketball. Years from now, I hope to look back and say, “That’s where it started.”