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Coach Les’ Past, Present, And Future Featured In Wednesday’s Game At The Golden 1 Center

(Photo by Justin Casterline/Getty Images)

By: Bruce Gallaudet
Jim Les, all these years later, still has the Sacramento Kings in his heart.

At the same time, the NBA franchise has always thought of the veteran UC Davis men’s basketball coach as part of the family.

“It really is a special relationship,”the former NBA point guard Les explained. Les was coming from a final practice at The Pavilion as I interrupted his busy schedule to chat about his relationship with the Kings — a day before his Aggies take on Sacramento State Wednesday at the downtown palace called Golden 1 Center.

“I’ve been blessed to be part of their family … something that’s benefited me as a coach,” added Les, who says getting to observe Kings’ practices, having key NBA personnel address his team and having “such a close relationship” has moved both his collegiate program and coaching style forward.

When the Aggies (2-3) take on the Hornets (2-0) at 5:30 p.m. as part of a doubleheader (which features Fresno State and St. Mary’s in the nightcap), it continues to fuel a rivalry that started in 1934. As part of the Causeway Cup Challenge, Wednesday provides a chance for the cross-river rivals to get their first points against the Aggies this school year. The Cup stands at 25-0 in favor of UCD.

With an immediate four-game road trip at hand afterwards, Les hopes Davis fans will seize the opportunity to see the new-look Aggies.

“We’ve had some close games (at the Arkansas State tournament) … and we’ve thrown our younger guys to the wolves early on,” reports Les. “A work in progress, we have some really good, young players. We have to find the right combinations … but we have some time, too.”

Les was part of an unstoppable duo while a student-athlete at Bradley. He and Hersey Hawkins (whose son Corey later became Big West Player of the Year under Les) would graduate as an improbable duo… The elder Hawkins leaving as college basketball’s leading scoring and Les — who earlier played at Cleveland State — left as the game’s second-most prolific career assist leader. Les advanced into the NBA as the 70th overall draft pick in the 1986.

Les bounced around. Signed and waived by three NBA teams, he saw action in the WBL and CBL before inking two, 10-day contracts with Sacramento in 1991. With the Kings that season, Les’ 7.2 ppg was a career high, as were, assists (5.4), steals (1.04) and field goal percentage (.444). He led the league in 3-point (.461) accuracy, too. Les would go on to play more than 200 games for the Kings over four seasons before again being waived half-way through 1994.

“It was a grind. With somebody of my ability, you always had to keep after it,” recalls Les. “But I learned a lot from coaches like Lenny Wilkens, Dick Motta, Jerry Sloan…”

But once his on-court career ended, Les almost exited basketball for good. He hooked on with a Sacramento financial corporation and, had it not been for the WNBA, Les might not have found his way back into coaching his first love.

“It was Sonny Allen who called, looking for a Sacramento Monarchs assistant,” Les told me. “I told Sonny I know nothing about women’s basketball. He said, ‘You know basketball.’ I learned so much from him and that time with the Monarchs.”

From 1999 to 2001 at the Monarchs, Les worked with Portuguese superstar Ticha Penicheiro and popular American players Ruthie Bolton and Yolanda Griffith.

The experience was enough to earn him the head spot at his alma mater Bradley. While there, the Braves played in four different postseason tournaments over four years, including making the NCAA Sweet 16 in 2006.

After going 12-20 in 2011, the Braves and Les parted ways with then-UC Davis Athletic Director Greg Warzecka enlisting Les to become the program’s 23 head coach. That was nine seasons ago…

Since, in one four-year span, Les led the Aggies to three Big West championships and its first-ever NIT and NCAA postseasons.

These days Les is excited about his latest mix of new and veteran players.

Now Aggie fans will get to see the fruit borne of Jim Les still being in hearts and minds of the Sacramento Kings.

While Jim says he doesn’t remember how this game at Golden 1 Center came to be, men like Kings GM Vlade Divac never forgot where Les is and what Les still means to his Kings.

And if fans want to know a little more about how Jim Les played basketball, all one has to do is watch his guards — and this year there is a whole legion of them.

Joe Mooney, Caleb Fuller, Damion Squire, Rogers Printup, Ezra Manjon, Elijah Pepper, Ade Adebayo, Stefan Gonzalez, Cameron Ba and B.J. Shaw…

Every one of these Aggies has a lot of Jim Les in them: solid work ethic, tough-as-nails defense, attention to detail on offense, shoot the 3.

As the combinations begin to gel, Aggie basketball feels like it’s back on course. Head out to Golden 1 Center and get take a peek at what’s ahead for this interesting season.