Men's Basketball: UCI's Folker dreaming big

Its no fluke that UC Irvine senior Adam Folker is a marketing whiz who has already organized and overseen a handful of companies and dozens of employees. He is, after all, a master at maximizing opportunity.

In five years with the Anteaters men's basketball program, Folker has evolved from a offensively challenged, banged-around, then banged-up banger, into a productive, polished and inspirational performer on both sides of the floor.

A 6-foot-9, 225-pound post player from Markham, Ontario, Canada — a Toronto suburb known more for slap shots than jump hooks — Folker has also taken advantage of several opportunities off the floor. The Newport Beach resident has become a bit of a social-media sensation in recent years, promoting something known as the Folker System.

The "system" refers to Folker's approach to life, business and basketball that begins with hard work and ends with, well, infinite possibility.

"The sky's the limit," said Folker, who overcame a career-threatening injury to earn Hustle Player of the Year award in the Big West Conference last season and collected Player of the Week honors in the conference in 2012-13. This season, he has helped UCI (17-14, 10-7 in conference heading into Saturday's regular-season finale at UC Davis) secure its first winning season since 2007-08, reach the upper echelon of the 10-team Big West standings, and post a perfect 9-0 home conference record. "Anything short of that would be selling myself ohwt."

Long before he devised strategies for selling anything, Folker learned the value of paying the price.

The product of parents who both played college basketball, Folker passed up the puck in order to concentrate on round ball. He practiced ball-handling in the often harsh elements until his fingers cracked. He spent five years (the term for high school in Canada) playing with the Markham District High varsity, matriculating from scrawny freshman point guard to a versatile front-court presence who averaged 31 points, 12 rebounds, eight assists and four blocked shots per game as a senior. He was named first-team All-Canada in 2007-08.

It was in high school that his uncommon work ethic took shape, though he never considered himself anything close to a grinder.

"In high school, it wasn't uncommon to wake up at 6 a.m. to go and run some hills, but I thought everyone else was doing that too," Folker said. "During my lunch break, I'd pass on going to get fast foot and go do some jumping workouts out in a field. I never saw myself as working hard, just trying to be good."

Upon arriving at Irvine, that quest continued, on the court, in the classroom and in the business world.

"Since my freshman year, I've always been pretty focused on getting done what I needed to get done out here," Folker said. "With the resources that have been made available to me, not staying focused and not taking advantage of that would just be foolish."

"Adam is a workhorse on the court, always doing something to better his game," said senior teammate Mike Wilder. "I think everyone on the team looks up to him because of all the hard work that he displays.

"And, he's an entrepreneur and a businessman and his mind works differently than most people's do," Wilder said. "It's good sometimes just to pick his brain and get his thoughts and ideas."

Folker formulates his ideas with voracious reading and a passion for learning. He has become an expert on marketing strategies, particularly related to social media.

His appetite for knowledge has also produced a complex nutritional regimen that involves daily shakes stocked with elements more readily available on a walk through the woods than a trip to the local supermarket.

He does not drink, socializes sporadically and his only admitted vice is an occasional Sunday binge at a local IHOP where he and his fellow "cheat-meal" miscreants "get after the pancakes and what not."

More often, Folker gets after opponents that frequently render him undersized.

Through Thursday, he is averaging 9.6 points, 6.4 rebounds and is shooting 58% from the field. He led the conference in the latter category last season (56.9%) and he has amassed 684 rebounds and 597 points in his career.

"As a player, he has improved every year," said third-year coach Russell Turner, who clearly admires and respects one of his four senior leaders. "I think he makes his biggest impact defensively, which people probably notice the least, because he is such a fine team defender. He makes guys better with the way he talks [on defense, aligning teammates and pointing out upcoming screens] and the physicality he brings. He also makes the unselfish play, like getting a deflection or drawing a charge. There is no mistaking the fact that when Adam plays well, we win."

Turner also said Folker embodies the student-athlete experience.

"To have this Folker System and the stick-to-it-ive-ness to build that and a website says a lot about who he is and how driven a person he is," Turner said. "And you can see that in the level at which he competes. He won the Hustle Award last season and that's kind of the way he lives his life, moving at great speed. There's never going to be anything that he does that surprises me, wherever he goes. I think he's always going to be a high-achieving, hard-working guy and that has always been a real great asset to have as part of our program.

Folker relishes his role this season and he looks forward to finishing with a Big West Conference Tournament championship.

"To be one of the go-to guys is a great feeling," said Folker, who spent seven months in 2011 rehabilitating from a hip injury that some doctors suggested should prompt his retirement from the game. "To know that you have a great impact on the game's outcome, it's a fantastic feeling."

Folker said he also experiences gratification through assisting as many as two-dozen people who email him for advice every day through his FolkerSystem Facebook page.

"I love to help people," Folker said. "If people see my story being inspiration to them, that's great. Right now, I get upward of 20-30 emails a day from people around the world telling their story and asking if I can help them. I respond to all of them. They are young basketball players, older players, parents of basketball players and coaches."

Folker, who will graduate in May with a business economics degree, said his systematic approach to college includes one last hurrah on the court.

"We have a goal to win the Big West tournament and there's really not that much that is going to stop us from doing that," he said, pointing to a rubber bracelet advertising the tournament, and its theme this season: Dream Big.

Dreaming big is hardly new to Folker.

Twitter: @BarryFaulkner5

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