Arguably, San Diego is the best city in the United States.
The list of the city’s accolades is extensive. Sunshine year-round, pink and blue sunsets, and exciting city life are just a few of the features that make “America’s Finest City” great. These benefits come with a price. The cost of living is among the highest in the world. The sports gods, as if they were evening everything out, have cursed the local teams, breaking the hearts of San Diego fans.
There are six major American sports championships – the NFL, NBA, MLB, NFL, NCAAF, and NCAAB. Aside from a pre-Super Bowl era 1963 AFL Championship, San Diego, the eighth-largest city in the US, has never won a major title in a major professional sport. The NBA and NFL divorced the city. Among the professional teams, fans are left with only the Padres, who have won one playoff series in the last 15 years.
With a lack of teams among the major professional ranks, the city clings to organizations such as the Wave, Loyal, and Sockers. The San Diego sports fanbase is passionate but is usually left disappointed.
In 2019-2020, there was a different feeling in the cool San Diego air. SDSU Basketball had won 26 straight games and climbed into the top five of the national rankings. Without a clear dominant team in the country, the Aztecs had as good a chance as anyone to bring the first major sports title to San Diego since 1963. Then the curse struck again; COVID-19 ended their season and halted a year that will forever be remembered as a “what if?”
What if COVID-19 had not cut SDSU’s season short? How far could they have gone?
What if this upcoming season has the potential to rewrite history and break the curse?
The 2022-2023 team is similar to last season’s squad that was consistently ranked number one in the nation defensively according to KenPom and made a second straight NCAA appearance. Four seniors from last year’s Aztecs, Matt Bradley, Nathan Mensah, Aguek Arop, and Adam Seiko, all chose to put off their professional aspirations for another year to return to the Mesa. While SDSU will be replacing a pair of super seniors, they added two transfers in the offseason and will eagerly await the appearance of the much-hyped Jaedon LeDee, who redshirted a season ago.
“We could have eight starters on our team,” Seiko said on an upcoming episode of The SDSU Basketball Podcast. “All eight, nine guys could probably start. I think that’s a good thing… But I’m looking forward to our versatility. Our defense will be top-ranked again, if not one, two, or three. I’m excited for these guys, the young guys, the older guys, the guys who are transferring in who get to experience a different culture than maybe they were at before. Come into a much more winning culture, and everything is going to rub off on them. I believe we are going to get off to a hot start to the season.”
“I think this team coming up has a lot of older guys who have been in that position as far as making the tournament, playing for championships. Guys who are coming in wanting to win, wanting to sacrifice themselves. I think that’s a great formula to winning. Once the summer starts, we’ll get ourselves going. Get our camaraderie going, and we will see where it plays out from there. But I’m very confident that we can have a great season. I would say a great season is under five losses.”
Only two SDSU teams in the Division One era have accomplished the feat of an under-five loss season. The first was the 2010-2011 team led by Kawhi Leonard. They went 34-3 before losing to the eventual champion Connecticut in the Sweet Sixteen. The second was the aforementioned 2019-2020 Aztecs, who finished 30-2. Seiko was a member of that team.
If next year’s Aztecs are to join that elite company, it will be impressive because SDSU has a very challenging schedule. In the non-conference, SDSU is participating in a loaded field at the Maui Jim Maui Invitational. They also have a game against BYU and a road contest against Stanford.
SDSU will have to navigate that brutal slate with only a couple losses at most because the conference is always challenging. In the past ten years, SDSU is the only team to lose fewer than three games in a conference season. They have accomplished the feat three times. Seiko was confident in his answer, stating that he and Bradley made their early decision to return last year because they knew they could build something special in the following season.
To meet Seiko’s lofty aspirations, the team will have to make major improvements offensively. The Aztecs finished last season ranked 167th in the nation offensively, according to KenPom.
What will be different this year? An aggressive Adam Seiko.
“For the most part, people out there, they see me one-dimensionally. They think I’m a defender and shoot threes,” Seiko said. “But I’ve been able to attack more this year, get in the paint, get guys open. Be more dangerous. So teams can’t figure out and play chess about how they want to guard us because they can’t give us everything. This upcoming year, I plan to be more aggressive. Everyone is always telling me to be more aggressive. I think that is one thing I can do and continue to be a great defender on the other side of the floor. Do whatever it takes to help the team win.”
Be more dangerous.
Last season, Seiko shot 40.4% from three but took less than four shots a game. On a team that got into the habit of isolation basketball, Seiko needed to be more aggressive for the offense to flow.
“The coaches are always telling me, you gotta shoot that, you gotta let that go,” Seiko said when asked if he did not shoot enough in 2021-2022. “So yeah, I think I could’ve taken way more. But I think that’s something the coaches on the team would want me to do as well, unselfishly, of course. That’s what I’m focusing on, being more aggressive so I can apply more pressure to teams’ defenses and their schemes, and what they want to do… The more dangerous I am, the more dangerous our team is. That goes for everyone else on our team as well.”
This summer, he will be working on embodying danger. When he is not writing his thesis for a Master’s Degree in Interdisciplinary Studies with an emphasis on leadership and sociology, he is working on his game. He has been practicing hard with his younger brother, Arthur Kaluma.
Opponents last year in the NCAA Tournament when SDSU played Creighton, the brothers are joining forces this summer to play on the Ugandan National Team. After a sixth place finish at 2021 FIBA Afrobasket, the Silverbacks are among the teams in the hunt to represent Africa in the FIBA World Cup. Five African nations will participate in the global tournament. Seiko and Kaluma are working to ensure Uganda has a place among the world’s elite basketball teams.
“Personally, it was such an eye-opening experience playing overseas,” Seiko said. “Playing against bonafide pros whether it’s NBA guys, Euro league guys. For me, I just wanted to let my game speak for itself. I play for a great coach, Coach George who is the head coach for Texas Legends. We have Mike Schmitz, who is on our staff as well. These are great coaches. They let me play. I’m going in there just to play free, make sure that I’m helping the team do whatever it takes.”
Going into next season, Seiko, the former redshirt, will return for his sixth year on campus and will have two years of Afrobasket under his belt. Seiko said his favorite memory as an Aztec was the season COVID cut short. While the disappointment has not gone away, he fondly remembers the incredible bond he shared with those teammates, even with guys such as Yanni Wetzell and KJ Feagin, who were only on the Mesa for a season. He is hungry to make a new best memory this upcoming season.
Three returning seniors and Keshad Johnson were a part of that team. Seiko’s description of the chemistry between the two teams is similar.
“Off the court, these guys are so genuine. I think that’s what makes our team as good as we are,” Seiko said. “We have guys with no egos, guys who all get along, guys with good hearts. Guys with the mindset that they want to be successful off the court as well… We understand that life is bigger than basketball. Our friendship and brotherhood is what truly means a lot to us. I’m just proud to be around those guys.”
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But in order to create a team with under five losses, SDSU will need more scoring output. The 2010-2011 and 2019-2020 teams both had four players averaging double digits in addition to their top 10 defense.
Next season SDSU will rely on Bradley, the most established offensive threat on the roster. Around him, they will need Mensah, LeDee, Butler, and Johnson to improve their offensive performance. Incoming transfers Darrion Trammell (17.3) and Micah Parrish (12.1) averaged double figures a season ago for their former teams. Both could take some of the offensive load as well.
Add to that mix a dangerous Adam Seiko, and the Aztecs belong in the conversation for one of the top teams in the nation.
Class of 2022 at San Diego State University. Communication major and pursuing a sports journalism profession. Season ticket holder of the SDSU MBB team since 2011. Fondest memory of Viejas Arena is Aztec legend, Dwayne Polee sparking a 19-1 run over New Mexico to win the MW Conference in 2014.