A desire to succeed.
The motivation to work hard.
The drive to reach the same goal.
The UC Irvine Men’s Basketball team has this frame of mind as they start off their season with a clean slate and a restored roster.
Seven new players are wearing UCI colors. Two of them are already starters.
This basketball team can rightfully be called a team with no superstar.
This is both invigorating and helpful to what might ultimately propel the team to a top standing in the Big West come tournament time.
Junior starting guard Ross Schraeder knows everyone wants to win and be successful this season and the way to do this is by learning how to work hard and play good defense, a key area where UCI needs improvement as the preseason begins.
Besides Schraeder, there are only three other returning players this season: senior forward/center Greg Ethington, junior guard Jeff Gloger and sophomore forward Nic Campbell.
The team’s lone senior, Ethington, is also its leader.
‘Greg has been a great leader since practice started, telling guys where to go and what to do,’ Schrader said. ‘That’s been huge for us, having someone vocal and stepping up.’
But let’s not forget the powerhouse duo of Schraeder and Gloger. Both play vital roles in what the team is and what it can accomplish this season.
Gloger already has put up big numbers for UCI, scoring 22 in the team’s first exhibition game against Simon Fraser and went nine-for-nine from the field. Schraeder came up with 16 points, as well.
In the last four games of the 2003-2004 season, Schraeder averaged 19.5 points. Most of them came from three-pointers. Being able to successfully put in those dunks helped boost Schraeder’s confidence in his play.
‘I’m more confident and everybody trusts I can do it,’ Schraeder said.
Even though they can count on each other on the court, both new and veteran players are still adjusting to one another. The players have practiced together for a few months, but they need to learn and distinguish how each of them plays together in a real game, a process which can take months.
‘[It is] going to take until conference play until we are on the same page,’ Gloger said. ‘It takes time, as well. [We] obviously need to get games under our belts before we gel.’
As for the team’s camaraderie, according to Gloger, ‘everyone gets along’ and the players are ‘more compatible’ to last year’s.
Ethington also agrees that the coming month will show ‘how [players] react to game situations,’ as they must show ‘positive attitudes … [by] coming together and being more disciplined.’
This ‘will help us get to our end goal,’ Ethington said.
Third-year starting guard Aaron Fitzgerald, new to the team after transferring from Jacksonville Community College in Texas, is a key element in UCI’s perimeter on the court.
According to Schraeder, ‘Aaron gets the ball up and down the court,’ which is helping the team make more transitions in the game than they did last year.
Adds Fitzgerald, ‘I came here to get a chance to play and be an important part.’
This team, compared to last year’s, is quicker on the floor and in passing. It also has a stronger offense.
Its new center, third-year Adam Metelski, who is originally from Poland but transferred from Grayson County College in Texas, provides the team with a lot of size on the court along with Ethington.
Although Metelski shares the same first name with former center Adam Parada, do not get these two confused. If Metelski can play consistently throughout the season and endure, he will be a powerful force.
‘I have to work really hard to replace him [Parada] and I will do my best,’ Metelski said.
Meleski’s goal for the season is to ‘win the Big West and go to the NCAA tournament,’ as well as to ‘improve myself and become the best player I can.’
Even though more than half the team is new to UCI, four of the players have transferred from community colleges to be here. Sophomore center Andrew Bruckner and junior guard Shamar Armstrong along with Fitzgerald and Metelski bring some experience from the collegiate level to UCI.
But because UCI is a Division I school, they need to work even harder than they have before.
The three new freshmen on the team are guard Davis Baker and forwards Patrick Sanders and Darren Fells. This season, every player will get more playing time because the team is comprised of only 11 athletes. With that, it should be an exciting season for the Anteater squad. The team is motivated to improve their game, finish strong in the Big West and to ultimately make a comeback into the tournament.
Both the coaches and media polls picked UCI to finish seventh overall in the Big West from a total of 10 teams. But it’s just a poll and not the end result. UCI not only hopes to climb the Big West ladder, but also believes the game will be more enjoyable to watch for the fans.
According to Schraeder, UCI is ‘going to give everything we have to turn things around and I think they [the fans] will see and respect that.’
‘We are going to surprise a lot of people,’ Ethington said. ‘Don’t count us out just yet. It’s a new year, new team and it’s going to be different.’
Now we just have to wait, watch and believe that this year our team will make it happen.
Are you a believer?