Last night’s NCAA Doubleheader at Golden 1 Center held extra meaning for three San Diego State Aztecs. For local products Malik Pope, Dakari Allen and D’Erryl Williams. playing ball in the brand new downtown arena was a chance to come home.
“I was excited,” Pope said following his team’s 77-65 win over Cal. “I went to a lot of Kings games when I was younger… It was a good feeling. The court was nice and fresh so it was fun out there.”
The junior forward grew up in Sacramento and graduated from Laguna Creek High School before committing to San Diego State. Monday’s game was a big moment for the junior forward, who was making his season debut after missing the first three games this year. The 6’10 forward said he was eager to showcase his skills for numerous family members in attendance.
“I haven’t played in front of my family in a while,” said Pope, who finished with 14 points despite fouling out of the game. “So that was a real good feeling (that) family was courtside.”
Williams and Allen shared Pope’s excitement for the evening. The two Aztec players both graduated and teamed together at nearby Sheldon High School in Elk Grove prior to moving down south for university.
Aztecs Head Coach Steve Fischer noted the significance of playing this non-conference game in Golden 1 Center for his three players. Forging strong bonds and cultivating positive experiences for local standouts like Williams, Allen and Pope has helped Fischer establish his program on the Sacramento recruiting trail.
“We want to come here and get involved with the better players,” Fischer said after the win. “We’ve maintained, made and grown some relationships, so we want to continue to do that.
“This should help us coming back here – (bringing) the three back home and having success,” he added.