LOS ANGELES -- The college basketball season in the United States is set to begin, and one Filipino-American coach is eagerly counting down the days.
University of California Riverside coach Mike Magpayo made history in 2020, as one of the first NCAA Division 1 coaches of Asian descent.
Under his leadership, the Highlanders finished with a 14-8 record last season, their best finish in 12 years. His success on the court during a pandemic-stricken season netted him the Joe B. Hall award -- an honor given to the top first-year head coach in the NCAA.
"I took it a day at a time, and then things worked out," said Magpayo. "I was really blessed to inherit a full cupboard. I had a full squad, a really good team, and the culture was there already."
This past week, the school and Magpayo kicked off their "Raise the Riv" campaign, hoping to build on their success from the previous season.
"That's what Raise the Riv is all about. It's kind of the mantra of our staff and our team," said Magpayo, who was signed to a five-year extension by the school recently. "It's time to elevate ourselves."
"We were third place in the Big West last year, we had some good wins… But now that we've raised ourselves as a real contender, it's time to Raise the Riv and try to make magic happen, make the NCAA tournament, which is our goal," he added.
The campaign looks to raise $30,000 in 40 days. A year ago, school officials had recommended cutting UC Riverside's entire sports program to save money, but the program managed to avoid elimination. Despite the challenges, it also managed to excel.
"It's just to invest in our guys," Magpayo said. "I really want to give them everything that they need to perform at the high level, and really that's the deal."
"We want them to think they're in an elite program, just as elite as the Los Angeles Lakers or whatever. We really want them to see and feel that, and that just takes investment and resources," he added. "We're getting there."
Giving UC Riverside an extra boost this year will be the return of fans in the stands. To raise excitement among fans and alumni, the team will be hosting a Tip Off Dinner Fundraiser on October 6, another effort to elevate the team's profile.