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Men's Basketball Preview: 'Eaters have high hopes

Tall, deep and talented, UCI, including 7-6 freshman Ndiaye, could earn first NCAA berth.

October 31, 2013|By Barry Faulkner
  • UC Irvine's Luke Nelson, left, and Alex Young figure to be key players for the Anteaters.
UC Irvine's Luke Nelson, left, and Alex Young figure… (SCOTT SMELTZER,…)

An indisputable buzz exists around the UC Irvine men's basketball team this season. Coach Russell Turner and his staff, however, would prefer a purr, the product of the kind of contentment that eventually comes from a championship season.

"It can be a special season," said Turner, a former NBA assistant who enters his third season at UCI with the most talent and depth the program has had in more than a decade. "We've got a long way to go, but it can be special if we do what I think we can as a staff and as a team. It's exciting because we have a couple special young guys."

Special may be too mild a word for 7-foot-6 freshman Mamadou Ndiaye, who is arguably the biggest celebrity on campus after averaging 27.1 points, 13.7 rebounds and 4.5 blocks while shooting 77% from the field as a senior at Brethren Christian High in Huntington Beach.

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Some project an NBA future for Ndiaye, a native of Dakar, Senegal who is still learning the game.

"He's a fascinating person and player," said Turner, who ventured to Senegal in the offseason to meet the gargantuan center's family. "He's a real joy to coach, but also a challenge because he's so different. He commands tremendous attention on offense because he is really good around the basket. And, defensively, he is a presence. I really couldn't be much more pleased with Mamadou than I am."

That being said, Ndiaye, who touches 10 feet, 3 inches on his tip-toes, may only have a supporting role with an Anteaters squad that reached the Big West Conference Tournament title game and earned the program's first postseason victory (in the CollegeInsider.com tournament) since 1986.

UCI was picked to win the Big West in this year's preseason media poll and several media outlets, and winning its first conference tournament title would mean the program's first NCAA Tournament berth in its 37th season since it joined the Division I ranks.

Will Davis, a 6-8 junior who was the Big West Defensive Player of the Year, and Alex Young, a 6-1 point guard who shared Big West Freshman of the Year laurels in 2012-13, are additional reasons why UCI fans have heightened expectations.

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