His teammates call him fossil and at age 24, in his sixth year out of high school, UC Irvine senior Daman Starring might have more life experience than all but a few college basketball players.
That that experience has not always been good, has only helped forge his character and status as a leader for the Anteaters, who open Big West Conference Tournament play Thursday against Hawaii at approximately 8:30 p.m. at Honda Center.
"He has strong belief in himself and strong core values as a person," UCI Coach Russell Turner said of Starring, a second-team All-Big West performer who leads the Anteaters in scoring at 13.3 points per game. "As a competitor, he is one of those guys who has had to struggle to get the most out of his talents."
A 6-foot-3 shooting guard who is both quick and athletic, Starring blends the improvisation of a contortionist with the calculating precision of a craftsman on the court. Having worked hard to hone his jump shot, his smooth delivery has produced a career-best efficiency from three-point range, where he is shooting 41.8%.
But when defenders charge at him to close out, he transforms into a slithery slasher who can and will use any angle to get his shot off near the rim.
"For this year's team, he has needed to step into more of an assertive scoring role and he has done that," Turner said. "Daman has really raised his profile as someone who wants to be good and he gets a lot of credit for that. It's not easy to do at his age."
Starring talks openly of some childhood hurdles that have contributed to his resolve to be the best man he can be. His father, Stephen Starring, who played six seasons as an NFL receiver, including 5 years for the 1985 Super Bowl runner-up New England Patriots, struggled with an addiction to crack cocaine and has not spoken with his son since before Daman reached his teens.
Starring found himself involved in a controversy as a junior at Sierra Vista High in Las Vegas, when a team hazing incident led to him being accused of sexual assault. He was arrested and expelled from school, but denied all wrongdoing. He was found not guilty of sexual assault, but was convicted of one charge of gross lewdness and one charge of battery.
He maintains his innocence, but said the incident has made him a stronger person.
"The past is something I can't run and hide from and I accept it," said Starring, who played his senior season at El Toro High. "Anybody who knows me, knows that [the conviction] was completely absurd. But if not for that incident, I wouldn't be at UC Irvine today. I fully embrace what's happened. It has made me a better Christian and a godlier man. I had to rely on the lord to get through those situations."
He also relied on family, at the center of which is his mom, Tammy. A former basketball star at McNeese State in Louisiana, Tammy Starring has since found success as an entrepreneur. She owns wildly successful fast-food restaurants at McCarren International Airport in Las Vegas and has overseen several other profitable ventures as well.
She has attended every one of her son's games and will be in Anaheim to see if these Anteaters (18-14), the No. 4 seed in the tournament, can claim the crown and make the program's first trip to the NCAA Tournament. A win Thursday would put UCI into Friday's semifinals. The final is scheduled for Saturday at 7:30 p.m.
"I appreciate everything she has done and all the sacrifices she has made for me and my sister," Daman Starring said of his mother. "The only way I know of paying her back is by giving her as much love as possible and being the best man I can be. I think she has taught me how to be a giver and I think I have also learned from her how to work hard and strive to be great."
Starring, who played his freshman season at Centenary College in Louisiana, from which he came to UCI after it left Division I for the Division III ranks, has given his all to his team this season.
"He is an extremely hard-working guy who is also a character guy," UCI senior post Adam Folker said. "He shows the younger guys on the team how to act."
Said fellow senior Mike Wilder: "Daman has been an incredible leader. He is there before and after practice, doing what he needs to do to keep his game at the right level."
Added Turner: "It's almost like he has this defiance about him, that he is going to make it work. You have to have that to succeed when things are hard."
Starring, who is set to graduate in May with a degree in psychology and social behavior and aims to play professional basketball overseas, said he is eager to add still more experience to his college career.
"We have a great group of guys, who make this one of the best teams I've ever been on," Starring said.