The 2008-09 men’s basketball season is almost upon us. The regular season officially begins next Saturday, Nov. 15 at the University of Southern California. Following the 18-16 season last year, including a trip to the Big West Conference tournament final game, the Anteaters have a lot to prove.
They have lost their senior leadership from last year with the graduation of center Darren Fells, forward Patrick Sanders and guard Marcus McIntosh. As a result of these losses, UC Irvine is predicted to finish sixth in the Big West Conference by both the coaches and media polls heading into this season.
In addition to the poll prediction, the Anteaters have no players on the Preseason All-Conference Team. The Anteaters do, however, have contributors from last year’s returning team. Returning players include sophomore guard Patrick Rembert, junior guard Michael Hunter, senior guard Brett Lauer, junior guard Chad DeCasas and senior forward Kevin Bland.
These players will receive help from a plethora of new players to the program. The Anteaters will welcome three junior college transfers: guard Darren Moore from Citrus College, forward Ryan Staker from Central Arizona College and forward Zack Atkinson from Feather River College. Also, five freshmen are new to the program headed by forward Eric Wise from King High School and Adam Folker from Canada. These five new freshmen are joined by freshman guard Derrick Strings, who red-shirted for the Anteaters last season.
The Anteaters will try to fill the void left by the departure of Fells and Sanders up front with multiple players. The Anteaters will enjoy much more depth in the front court this season than last. The depth will allow Bland and Atkinson to be very aggressive on the defensive end. Senior forward Bland is known for his heady defensive play and ranked fifth in steals in the Big West last season. Junior forward Atkinson is expected to be a threat to block a shot on every play. These two front court performers should be a joy to watch as they compete in every game. Freshman Eric Wise is expected by Head Coach Pat Douglass to see some playing time. If you have any questions about Canada’s Adam Folker, type his name into YouTube.com and watch his highlight reel.
In the back court, expect Rembert, Hunter and Lauer to all see action at the point guard spot. Each player offers a different skill set, which will give the Anteaters and Coach Douglass a lot of versatility at the position. Rembert is a strong and tough floor general, Hunter can take anyone off the dribble and Lauer is a sharpshooter from deep.
At the shooting guard position, expect Moore to get a bulk of the minutes. Junior guard DeCasas can see action at either the shooting guard or small forward position, depending on the opposition. His scoring ability will be important if the Anteaters wish to be successful. The remainder of the squad will undoubtedly prove themselves throughout the season and some will emerge as major contributors, as Rembert did last season.
The Anteaters are led by Coach Douglass, who is entering his 12th season as the head coach. He is the all-time leader in wins at the program with 171. He holds an overall record of 171-154 throughout the past 11 seasons. The Anteaters have a tough non-conference schedule highlighted by the previously mentioned season opener at USC. UCI hosts perennial powerhouse programs Oregon and Utah prior to conference play. Oregon comes to the Bren Events Center early in the season on Friday, Nov. 21 while Utah plays UCI on Saturday, Dec. 27 at the Bren Events Center.
Following these tough non-conference games, the Anteaters hope to make a run at the Big West Conference Championship. Cal State Northridge is currently the favorite to win the Big West, but the games are decided on the court by the players and not by the media and their polls.
The Anteaters face Eastern Washington in their first home regular-season contest on Wednesday, Nov. 19 at the Bren Events Center.