UIC hopes change has team on upswing
BY MICHAEL O'BRIEN firstname.lastname@example.org
While at Wisconsin, Howard Moore scoured Chicago for the players who would fit Bo Ryan's swing offense perfectly.
Now Moore is a resident, trying to fit UIC's players into his own swing offense and convince the city's best high school players there is a reason to play college basketball in Chicago.
So far, it appears to be going smoother than you might think.
''Coach Moore is not as much of a yeller as [Minnesota coach Tubby Smith],'' said senior Paul Carter, a Minnesota transfer.
Carter is one of seven new players this season who, along with Moore and assistant coaches Donnie Kirksey, Al Biancalana and Mike Mennenga, have changed the face of the Flames' program.
''There is a buzz on campus that we didn't have last year,'' said senior Robo Kreps, UIC's leading scorer last season.
Kreps has put on 20 pounds since last season and said he hopes to be more of a presence in the post. A 6-1 guard, he averaged 15.2 points and 3.9 rebounds.
''I was definitely tentative at first when practice started,'' Kreps said. ''I didn't know what coach Moore liked and what he didn't like. Everything has changed. Everything is more intense.''
Moore has been impressed with Kreps and several of the returning players, but insists that playing time is up for grabs.
''It's wide open,'' Moore said. ''I told those guys nothing is set in stone for us as far as the starting lineup.''
A lot is expected of Carter, who was Minnesota's sixth man last season.
''He can have a tremendous impact,'' Moore said. ''I'm going to put a lot of pressure on him to be a defensive nightmare.''
Defense was on the lips of Moore and the players throughout UIC's media day on Tuesday.
''Our defense is completely different,'' Kreps said. ''If you don't play defense you don't play at all.''
Junior guard Zavion Neely, a Hope grad, is primed for a big season. The 6-1 guard averaged 12.2 points last season.
The Flames will have the size to compete in the Horizon League, with five newcomers (Carter, freshman Eddie Denard, junior Darrin Williams, junior Paris Carter, junior Dorian Tyler) over 6-7.
UIC's success will largely depend on Moore's ability to get the players to buy into his core philosophies: defense and the swing offense.
There's a reason Wisconsin is so obsessed with recruiting just the right players for its system -- it's not for everyone.
''The growing pains really come once you start playing against other people,'' Moore said.
UIC opens the season Nov. 10 at Pittsburgh.