Thursday, December 26, 2013

Your Computer Monitor is a Crystal Ball

Throughout the last few weeks, numerous posts about Isaiah Walton, UC Davis men's basketball's newest member, have appeared at As someone who follows Aggie basketball on a daily basis as its sports information contact, I am excited to see him in person once he graces Hamilton Court next year.

Especially if he makes plays like the one you are about to watch.

For now, Elyria High School's leading scorer, and one of the top guards in Ohio, continues to turn heads every time he steps on the floor.

To see Walton's latest awe-inspiring play, click here; while you are at it, select Walton's play as the best of the week ending Dec. 24, as the senior guard is one of five players vying for this weekly title. Our votes decide the winner, show your #AggiePride by taking two minutes out of your day to show some love to Isaiah Walton.

- Eric Bankston, assistant athletics communications director, debated whether he should include a hashtag in a blog post during an internal dialogue with himself while changing his one-year-old's diaper. Share your thoughts about the need for hashtags in a blog post, or lack thereof, in the comment section below. Either way, click the link and vote for Walton - that dunk was (as the kids say nowadays) sick.

Monday, December 23, 2013

A Great Way to Enter the Break

This past week was a successful one for UC Davis men's basketball as members of the program experienced two victories in as many days.

On Saturday, the Aggies recorded an impressive 80-74 home victory, one that saw the team dominate the Air Force Falcons on each end of the court. Even though UC Davis trailed by four at the half, the team scored five of the final seven points scored before the break and continued its 15-4 scoring run throughout the initial minutes of the second half to take the lead for good.

Besides finishing with a 32-6 advantage in bench scoring, and recording all 15 fast break points earned by either team, UC Davis also scored 28 points off 15 Air Force turnovers to enter its holiday break on a positive note. 

Just over 24 hours later, another Aggie guided his team to victory, albeit from three time zones away. 

Responsible for his team's first 10 points, senior guard Isaiah Walton (a UC Davis NLI signee) scored Elyria High School's first 10 points, and finished with a team-high 29, to help the Pioneers capture a victory in their first appearance at the 10th-annual Steve Smith WQKT Holiday Hoops Classic at the College of Wooster.

By virtue of its 59-51 come-from-behind victory, Elyria handed Berlin Hiland its first loss of the season.

Click here to read the Tim Gebhardt's (The Chronicle-Telegram) recap of Elyria's latest victory and his take on Walton's performance.

- Eric Bankston, assistant athletics communications director, hopes everyone has an enjoyable holiday break with their family, friends and loved ones. 

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Big-time stage awaits Aggies at UConn

UConn's women's basketball game notes list only four probable starters for Thursday's matchup against UC Davis. Sure, eight national championships, 14 trips to the NCAA Final Four and victory margins the size of the Grand Canyon would give any team a lot of confidence. But playing with just four players? Isn't that a bit cocky?

I'm sure Aggie coach Jennifer Gross would think so. And then she'd probably tell UConn coach Geno Auriemma "thanks and we'll take it."

Former head coach Jorja Hoehn and current coach Jennifer
Grosswere part of one of the most successful eras of Aggie

A 40-minute power play isn't probably going to happen but Gross knows that while Thursday's game against the Huskies is a daunting task, it's also an an enormous opportunity. The Huskies have already beaten teams this season by 46, 55 and 58 points but a laundry list of schools would love to have the chance UC Davis has been handed.

The game, cemented by the head coaches while on the recruiting trail, is a prelude to next year's visit to The Pavilion by the Huskies - undoubtedly destined to be a sellout.

But first things first. If anything, UC Davis is catching UConn at the right time, if such a time exists Injuries have sidelined one of their four players on the watch list for national player of the year honors. Only seven scholarship players will suit up against the Aggies. 

But so far nothing has slowed the defending national champion and top-ranked Huskies this season. They're off to a 9-0 start and have beaten three ranked teams by at least 17 points each, including then No.1 Stanford by a 76-57 score, the same Cardinal team that beat UC Davis 66-48 in November.

But don't feel sorry for the Aggies and the lion's den they're walking into. Gross said the team is excited to play on the stage of the most dominant women's program over the past 20 years.

"These opportunities are fun because we get to challenge ourselves but they're also great because they're chances to do something special, and we're always looking at opportunities to give our players a chance to do something special," she said.

For those of us that have been around the Aggies' program for a long time - in my case, nearly 20 years - it's hard to fathom that when UConn won the first in their shopping cart full  of NCAA titles in 1995, UC Davis a was non-scholarship Div. II program playing conference foes the like of Notre Dame de Namur, Cal State Stanislaus and Cal State East Bay. In a way, the Aggies were the "UConn" of Div. II basketball on the west coach, beating teams by 50 points or more.

In fact, Gross was a star do-everything guard on UC Davis' teams between 1994-97, helping the team win 101 games. Looking back at the program then and then seeing how it plays the marquee name in the sport on Thursday brings her amazing perspective.

"When you think about it like that, it's pretty amazing to think how far we've come," she said. "It speaks volumes to this athletic department and how quickly we've been able to move things forward. I think our school has something so special to sell."

Of course, UC Davis has enjoyed its moments on its way to where it is now. It made Aggie history in 2011 when the Aggies won the Big West Championship and went to the NCAA Tournament in just their fourth year of Div. I. They've been to repeated WNIT postseason events and certainly haven't shied away from tough scheduling. Eleven ranked opponents since 2007 - including seven games against powerhouse Stanford - are evidence of that.

Oregon and Cal are the only other teams besides UC Davis that will face both UConn and Stanford during the 2013-14 regular season. 

If anything, facing Stanford so many times and having one player - Iowa State transfer Kelsey Harris - who went up against arguably the best women's collegiate player in Baylor's Brittany Grier, gives the team a shot of level-headed confidence.

"When we announced to our team that we were playing UConn, there wasn't one person in the room that had a look of nervousness or anxiety," Gross said. "Everybody stood up and cheered, 'let's go, let's do this.'"

The game will be played at the XL Center in Hartford and a crowd of several thousand diehard Husky fans will be waiting for the Aggies. Gross hasn't allowed herself to think too much about what will be going through her mind at the moment of tipoff or when she glances down the sideline and realizes she'll be matching strategies against legendary coach Geno Auriemma. 

"I think when I walk in there it'll hit me a little more," she said. "Right now, the emphasis is on getting our team ready to compete because that's what we can do. We're putting our team in a position where we get to show what we've got.

"We know if we bring less than 100 percent it's not going to be pretty," Gross added. "If we bring 100 percent, where do we measure up? That's our focus, making sure that we're going to run our offense beautifully. We're going to have confidence and step up and hit shots. We're going to be really, really alert and focused defensively and we're going to battle. Our coaches really want to see that effort."

And while no coach ever looks ahead to a future opponent - well, at least none of them ever admit to it - Gross makes no secret that she's fired up for next year's November visit by UConn. The Huskies make a trip out to play Stanford every other year and try to pick up another game beforehand. Pacific hosted them in 2010 and Oregon welcomed them last year.

Gross knows exactly what she wants to see on Hamilton Court in 2014.

"When I walked into The Pavilion for the men's game against Long Beach State (on ESPN 2 last season), the first thing that popped into my head was 'I think we can do this for UConn. I think we can get this environment,' " she said. "It was one of the most fun, electric environments that I've ever been a part of in a basketball arena.

"For our players to have an opportunity to play in that environment when it's a homecourt advantage, is something extremely special. It's something that most collegiate women's basketball players don't get to experience."

Thursday is another step in that experience.

Mike Robles is assistant athletics director, communications at UC Davis and remembers some of those routs during the Div. II era, specifically one of them that had a 55-5 halftime score. When the other team was late coming back onto the court for the second half, Robles believed a staffer that said, "they left and went home." He later bought swamp land in Florida. He also reminds fans that the game will be available to watch online at or through the SNY Network. Robles will be watching the TV broadcast in his office and has seating for four (snacks not included).

Monday, December 2, 2013

Future Aggie Enjoys Strong Start to Season

Recent men's basketball NLI signee Isaiah Walton's final season at Elyria High School (Elyria, Ohio) began in an odd way when a fire alarm was triggered shortly before tipoff. Even though the game was delayed by more than 30 minutes when everyone in attendance was forced to evacuate the gym, Walton still dominated his team's season-opener once action began and led his team to a 71-59 victory.

Was the alarm a method of mentally distracting Walton and his teammates, or a prophetic sign of things to come? Either way, of the game-high 24 points scored by the newest member of UC Davis men's basketball, nine were earned during Elyria's 10-0, fourth quarter scoring run to push his team's lead to 17 with just a few minutes remaining.

Games like this highlight why the men's basketball coaching staff is excited to have Walton join their program next fall. Discover what they already know by following Walton's progress throughout his final year at Elyria through the eyes of two local reporters; included below are recaps from the Chronicle-Telegram's Tim Gebhardt and the Morning Journal's Paul Barney regarding Walton influence in helping his team secure a victory in its inaugural game of the season.

- Eric Bankston, assistant athletics communications director, once thought about tripping a fire alarm to postpone a chemistry test he was not prepared to take during his junior year in high school. Thanks to the blessing known as extra credit (thanks Mr. Falk!), he ended up earning an 'A' that quarter even though his results on that exam were slightly less than average.