Cal Poly guard Kyle Odister meets the unstoppable force of Adam Folker's forearm. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

I had to miss most of Saturday’s 84-63 exhibition win over San Diego Christian, so I don’t have much to say about the overall effort except that it looks good on paper. From a statistical standpoint, numerous players had solid games, including Will Davis II, Collin Woods and Aaron Wright, which has to be a good sign for the season. An even better sign though, was the return of redshirt junior Adam Folker, who was 4-4 from the field with eight points, five rebounds and an assist in just nine minutes of play. For his first game back after sitting out an entire year (to the day!), you couldn’t ask for a better night.

In the season preview, I called Folker the X-factor for this squad, and it looks more true after a couple postseason games. Mike Best is too thin to handle the starting gig at center, and without Folker the team has no non-freshman in the post. In addition, I believe that Adam is a strong candidate for a breakout season, which would be a huge boost to take off some pressure from Woods, Davis et al.

What’s interesting is the curious route that Folker has taken to becoming a rugged center. Three years ago, Folker showed up at UCI as a Canadian Lebron James. A Youtube highlight reel showcased Folker as a man among boys, dribbling behind his back, leading the fast break, and slamming home dunks emphatically. Folker even shot from long range with ease. His numbers back-up his outright domination of Canadian high school basketball–31.2 PPG, 11.8 RPG, 9.2 APG. In other words, Folker pretty much averaged a triple-double during his senior year of high school. According to my friend who saw him at Mesa Court before Folker’s freshman season, Folker said that he would play guard for UCI! What’s more, this Cornell basketball blog has a report on recruiting Folker with these descriptions: “possessing the skill set of a point guard,” 6’8″ kid who can shoot from the perimeter, but is also capable of getting the ball on the floor and attacking the basket off the dribble,” and incredibly, “Weaknesses: He needs work on his defense and rebounding. He likes to float away from the basket and needs to commit more to glass work.” Basically, Adam Folker came to UCI and did a 180 degree completely different player.

During his freshman season at UCI (2008-09), it’s fair to say that the primary reason Folker got minutes was because of his rebounding tenacity. On the other hand, his shot was plain ugly. The dribbling and penetration ability can understandably become a casualty of a much higher level of play and faster pace of game at the Division I level, but it was perplexing to see even Folker’s free throw shooting deteriorate so much. He would brick shots badly, and pretty much only get points off of put-backs and lay-ups–a far cry from his creating-his-own-shot offensive displays. One possible explanation is that Folker had to bulk up quickly in order to get playing time, and in the process the added muscle screwed up his shot and handle. Another possibility is that he wasn’t at full-strength injury wise, which affected his touch. Nonetheless, today’s game gives me hope that Folker can return to the offensive threat that he once was–Folker’s first points on the board came on an aggressive drive to the basket.

Before last season, Folker told me that he was excited to face the basket a lot more under Turner’s new offense. I believe we saw a brief glimpse of that in the exhibition game before he got injured, and I did see him working on his dribble frequently while unavailable to practice regular drills. If Folker, now wearing No. 30, can return at full strength, the Anteaters can count on a guaranteed rebounding machine and rugged defensive presence who will not back down from anyone. If he can add on even half of his old offensive game as icing on the cake becoming a legit starting center, UCI will be in much better shape for this year and 2012-13.