UCSB finished second to two-time defending champion UC Irvine in the media’s Big West Conference men’s basketball poll, although the Gauchos did land the most players on the preseason all-league team.
Junior Amadou Sow and senior JaQuori McLaughlin were among the six players chosen to the honor squad. They joined Irvine’s Collin Welp, UC Riverside’s Arinze Chidom, Long Beach State’s Chance Hunter, and UC Irvine’s Ezra Manjon.
UCSB’s women were picked to finish third by the media and fourth by the coaches (the Big West’s men’s coaches discontinued their own preseason poll several years ago).
Senior Danae Miller was the lone Gaucho voted by both the media and coaches to the women’s all-league team. Sophomore center Ila Lane, who was one of 25 players nominated this week for the Becky Hammon Mid-Major Player of the Year Award, is opting out of this season because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“At the end of the day, Irvine deserves to be picked first,” Gaucho men’s coach Joe Pasternack said. “They’ve been the defending champs for a couple of years now and they have a great program.
“We have no control over the rankings or predictions, the only thing we have control over is what we do in practice to get better.”
The future does look bright for UCSB, which also officially announced the signings of backcourt recruits Cole Anderson and Ajay Mitchell that were reported last summer by the News-Press.
Sow was a second-team all-leaguer last year while McLaughlin received honorable mention.
“I think they’re two of the best players in the league,” Pasternack said. “That was proven last year, although it is all about what have you done for me this year.
“There will be a lot of attention on them from opposing defenses, but the good news is that we have a lot of guys who can score. If you focus too much on those two, we have three or four other guys who can take advantage of that.”
Sow, a 6-foot-9 junior, averaged 14.1 points and 7.0 rebounds last year to make the All-Big West Second Team for the second straight season. McLaughlin, a 6-4 senior, received honorable mention after averaging 13.4 points and 4.1 assists as a junior.
“They’ve both improved tremendously in different areas, but they’re still not finished products,” Pasternack said. “They both love the game and have worked unbelievably hard to get better.
“I’m really proud of them, and hopefully they can continue to improve as the year goes on.”
UC Irvine received 18 first-place votes and 270 total points while UCSB was picked first on nine of the ballots while totaling 254 points. One first-place vote went to UC Davis, which was third in the poll with 182 points.
The Aggies were followed by Hawaii, UC Riverside, Long Beach State, Cal State Bakersfield, Cal State Northridge, Cal State Fullerton, and Cal Poly. Big West newcomer UC San Diego was not included in the poll since it’s transitioning from Division 2 to Division 1 athletics and is ineligible for the postseason.
UC Davis and UC Irvine finished 1-2 for the women in both the media’s and coaches’ preseason polls. UCSB placed third with the coaches and fourth with the media. Hawaii took third in the media survey.
Miller was joined on both preseason all-league women’s teams by Cal Poly’s Sierra Campisano, Fullerton’s Taylor Turney, Long Beach’s Justina King and Davis’ Cierra Hall. Riverside’s Keilani Cooper made the coaches’ all-league team while Cal Poly’s Abbey Ellis replaced her on the media’s team.
Miller, a 5-7 senior guard, averaged 13.5 points and 4.0 assists last season to help the Gaucho women secure the No. 2 seed for the Big West Tournament — an event that was canceled by the COVID-19 pandemic. She also made a career-high 37 three-pointers.
“She can shoot from a little bit deeper now,” coach Bonnie Henrickson said. “Her ability to create and her handles have improved, too. She can change hands better when under pressure, and she knows when to let go of it.
“She’s also shown a real toughness, having played with a dislocated toe two years ago. She’s tough and talented and unselfish… Hard to guard and fun to coach.”
Henrickson also announced the signings of four highly rated recruits: 6-foot guard Kennedy Johnson of Bishop O’Dowd High, 6-foot wing Analillia Cabuena of Stockton’s Lincoln High, 5-6 point guard Callie Cooper of Richardson, Tex., and 6-3 center Laurel Rockwood of Foothill High in Henderson, Nev.
Henrickson said Kennedy and Cabuena are both impact players who will bring a combination of length and athleticism to UCSB’s backcourt. Cooper, meanwhile, “is a point guard who will change the game on both ends… She is a true leader who plays with a high competitive drive.”
Rockwood, the tallest of the recruits, has “a skill set that allows her to step off the block and score at the rim,” she added.
Pasternack is counting on his own recruits to help replace the four seniors and one graduate transfer on this year’s roster.
Mitchell, a 6-3 guard, averaged 13.3 points with 3.6 assists in eight games for Belgium’s U18 team at the European Championships in Oradea, Romania. He also averaged 9.5 points for the World Select Red team at the NBA Academy Games in Atlanta.
Anderson, also 6-3, averaged 27 points and made 137 three-pointers — a CIF-Central Section record — to lead Clovis West to a 26-6 record last year and the section’s Open Division final.
“Ajay comes from an incredible family in Belgium,” Pasternack said. “He is a very talented guard who will have a tremendous impact on our program.
“Cole also comes from a terrific family in Fresno and his sister (Megan Anderson) is on the Gaucho women’s team. He is considered the most prolific three-point shooter in the state.”