Sac State and UC Davis basketball teams meet at Golden 1 Center
Sacramento State athletic director Mark Orr was surrounded by a sea of festive activity Saturday afternoon, basking in the tailgate scene before the 68th Causeway Class kicked off between his Hornets and the rival UC Davis Aggies.
Sacramento State won that game 27-21 in front of a record crowd of 23,073 at Hornet Stadium. Orr even hopes some of that excitement spills over to the Golden 1 Center on Tuesday night for the basketball version of the Causeway Classic.
The UCD and Sacramento State women kicked off at 5 p.m. in a 2-1 teams meeting, followed by the men’s contest featuring teams with 3-1 records. Each of the four teams includes players with local roots, and some from distant lands.
UCD’s men’s and women’s teams have won Big West Conference tournament championships in recent years, earning NCAA tournament bids. March Madness is also the focus of Big Sky conference Hornets teams.
Overall, Orr said Sacramento State’s athleticism has generated buzz that goes far beyond the Hornets mascot and “Stingers Up!” mantra. The baseball program led by coach Reggie Christiansen has appeared in three NCAA regional tournaments and was ranked nationally early last season. The Football Hornets under coach Troy Taylor are 11-0, ranked second nationally and seeded second in the FCS playoffs.
The Hornets women’s basketball team was the most improved team in all of Division I last season.
“We can be a freak here,” Orr said of athletics in general at his university. “We have the coaches in place. We have exceptional student-athletes. All we need are facilities, and we are working on it.
The Golden 1 Center offers Sacramento State and UCD a chance to showcase their programs in what Orr calls “the best arena in the country.”
The female coaches – Jennifer Gross of the Aggies and Mark Campbell of the Hornets – are highly regarded and superb scouts. Coaches regularly praise their players, the way they compete, their attentiveness, the way they set up the screens, box and make the extra pass. The men’s teams are just as fundamental – and big and talented.
Hornets first-year coach David Patrick brought a host of great players from around the world as a composed man to the hoops scene around the world. This includes 6-foot-9 Hunter Marks of Australia, 6-9 forward Kiir Kiir Chol Deng of South Sudan and the NBA Global Academy, 6-9 Akol Mawein of Australia and last season with the Oklahoma Sooners, and the 7-1 Callum McRae of New Zealand and UC Riverside.
“We’re definitely big,” Orr said with a laugh. “We pass the airport look test. Our guys come in and people know we have to be a basketball team.
UCD under 12th grade coach Jim Les also has a host of greats with skills. They include 6-9 Christian Anigwe, Jac Mani and Niko Rocak, and 6-11 Francesco Borra. Ty Johnson and Elijah Pepper are the floor leaders for UCD. Pepper was born in Australia and his father, Ryan, played professional football there. Pepper is UCD’s leading return scorer with an average of 15.1. Sacramento’s Capital Christian freshman Sione Lose also played well. Sac State’s hometown flavor includes returning guards Rick Barros III and Capital Christian’s Zach Chappell.
Patrick spent the entire spring, summer and fall with his Hornets getting to know them. Les has seven new players this season, and a summer European basketball trip has helped bond and experience things.
Les said of his UCD experiences: “I get to go to work every day and work with high character guys, and it keeps me young, gives me energy. They lift us up. We have it right here. The coaches of this profession had champion teams but did not support their team. That’s not a problem here.
As for the skills of players getting bigger and bigger, Les said it’s been a growing trend for years. It is added to the game and will be on display at Golden 1.
“The players are bigger, faster, stronger than before, and they are more versatile and skilled than ever,” Les said. “I come from the days of the dinosaurs where if you were above 6-8 you were strictly post – never allowed to dribble or shoot from the outside. It’s changed. It makes it fun. We can initiate the offensive by our seniors. Every big man wants to play guard, right? We have to evolve. »
The Causeway Classic hoops version will also be something of a reunion for Brandon Laird. He graduated from UCD, a member of the 1998 UCD team that won the NCAA Division II championship under coach Bob Williams. He coached 12 seasons at Sacramento State as an assistant and served as the program’s interim coach last season. Laird is now back at UCD as an assistant coach.
“Bringing him in was a no-brainer,” Les said. “I ran into him at a practice clinic and said, ‘Let’s go have a beer, have lunch and talk. You’re too good a guy and too good a coach not to be part of it, and we’d love to have you.