Reconnection through Competition

Basketball alumni “Snails” give guidance and competition to current Slugs

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Snails can keep up with Slugs, and this week UC Santa Cruz men’s basketball alumni proved it. Seven basketball alumni, dubbed the “Snails,” returned to Kaiser Permanente Arena on Jan. 15, determined to show the current UCSC men’s basketball players they could still keep up with their alma mater. The alumni beat the Slugs 91-90, making this the fourth year in a row alumni have won.

“The alumni always come out fiery,” said alumnus Jeremy McGirr, who graduated last spring. “The Slugs are always ready, but the alumni always catch [the Slugs] being easy at the beginning. Then the alumni put it to them and it’s a catch up game.”

The alumni opened with a three pointer, leading the Slugs by 10-20 points for most of the game. Some turnovers and poor defense hindered the Slugs, but in the last few minutes they managed to close the gap. The Slugs decided not to play their starters and gave the other teammates a chance to play.

“We’re trying to get the other guys prepared,” said sophomore shooting guard Ben Dorfman. “[We want] to let them know it’s like a real game, because the alumni see it that way, so we need to see it that way as well.”

The attitude on the court is both familiar and intense, letting the players showcase their skill and passion for the sport. But with team pride on the line, it was more than a friendly pick-up — and some Slugs were knocked to the court.

“You’re sort of relaxed out there because you know everyone but you just go out there and play,” junior Kyle Creighton said. “It’s really competitive, almost more, because all the alumni want to come back and beat everyone.”

The game offered both a chance for competition and for players to reconnect with former teammates and meet players who came before them. The program is a tight knit group and there is camaraderie between past and present players.

The shared experience of being on the team, no matter what point in time, connects the group. The alumni game allows them to reminisce on the sacrifices and dedication that make the team what it is.

“The relationships are great —  [the alumni] come to our games,” said junior power forward Sam Gabbard. “If they ever see us on the road, they’ll come in at half time or after the game and give speeches. We’ll text them and talk to them even if we’re not in season.”

These relationships are beneficial even after the alumni leave because students can use the numerous team connections to help players in the post-graduation world.

“We have what we call the ‘Slugs Pen Pal Program,’” coach Ron DuBois said in an email. “This program pairs alumni with current senior players helping to bridge the gap between graduation and pursuing a career in the real world.”

Gabbard, who wants to go to business school after he graduates, plans on talking more about his future with alumnus Paul Simpson, a 2002 graduate who played in the game.

“[Paul] went to Cal’s business program, and now he started his own business,” Gabbard said. “Just the fact that he’s an alum, that’s just a connection right there for me.”

But as the players look to graduation, they also look back on their time in NCAA athletics as the threat of the referendum and NCAA funding termination approaches. Next year could potentially be the last year for basketball, and the players know it.

“This is a program that I gave a lot to. We all sacrificed academics, we all sacrificed different things to give to this program and to give to this school,” Gabbard said. “After all that to get rid of sports it’s almost like a slap in the face.”

The uncertain future of athletics at UCSC is causing concern across the NCAA athletics spectrum. The university does not have a funding model to continue NCAA sports beyond this season. Basketball players alongside other athletes and  alumni are working to ensure all NCAA sports continue.

“I’m in the [Student Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC)] with a couple other guys on the basketball team and all the other sports [teams],” Gabbard said. “We’re just trying to figure out ways to get the word of sports out around campus.”

Alumnus Paul Simpson is working with the Alumni Council’s Committee on Athletics to help determine the specifics of the referendum that would fund NCAA athletics permanently and develop a lasting business model.

“The reason that I give back as an alum is that I would hope that future generations have the same opportunity to have the experience that I had,” Simpson said. “I wouldn’t want to see a day where students of the future are not being given the opportunity to have the overall experience that I had at Santa Cruz.”