Antourage Insider: Growing Pains for the Anteaters

No one said it would be an easy transition for the Anteaters this season. The exhibition slate showed glimpses of exciting promise, but also areas that need vast improvement.

A swarming defense that was not afraid to press early and often caused an astounding 32 turnovers against a clearly overmatched UC San Diego team. However, a polished Concordia team only had nine turnovers, less than they committed last year against UC Irvine. The jury is still out on how many turnovers the Anteaters will force this year.

The Concordia Eagles are not your average NAIA team … despite the fact that they are not Division I, Concordia could probably match-up to most Division I teams quite well. Last year, they only lost to UCLA by one point, and this year, they add the infamous Taylor King, of Mater Dei and then Duke and Villanova fame, to their team. The fact that they do not operate under NCAA regulations as an NAIA team means less strict recruiting and eligibility issues. As an example, five Eagles are transfers from Div I colleges. King himself is playing for the Eagles instead of sitting out the year at a Div I school due to transfer rules.

That being said, losing to your much smaller and lesser known cross-town school is still very disappointing. Granted, it’s the preseason, but the team has shown little consistency behind Eric Wise. Daman Starring needs to provide much more. Hopefully he is just getting acclimated to a new team and system. Darren Moore’s abysmal free throw shooting performance should be an anomaly.

The x-rays show that Adam Folker suffered a broken hand. UCI’s starting center left Friday’s game early on, and the results are highly unfortunate. This is a huge loss for the Anteaters, as Folker estimated being out for 4-6 weeks. He will see a specialist when the team gets back from Illinois.

Maxime Chupin, you’re our only hope. The frontcourt looks dreadfully thin right now, especially with Folker’s injury. I never thought I’d say this, but I even miss Zack Atkinson. As frustrating as he was at times, he was at least a shot-blocking threat to be reckoned with. (On a side note, congrats to Zack for being drafted by the New Mexico Thunderbirds of the NBA Development league in the fourth round.) NCAA, please make a ruling on Chupin as soon as possible.

Freshman Kevin Mulloy is redshirting the season. This is probably best for Mulloy, as the last freshman of the Pat Douglass era seems to have loads of potential.

“Coach Turner talked to me about it, and we made [the decision to redshirt] today with my dad,” Mulloy said on Oct. 29. “I have to play the [power forward position] right now because my handling and fundamentals for the [small forward] spot aren’t very good right now. So right now I’m working on that.”

The year practicing with the team should pay off for Mulloy and UCI for many years to come.

Props to Eric Wise and his leaner build this season. The off-season work that Mr. Wise put in is obvious. Expect another huge year for No. 34.

The ’Eaters are looking fresh in their new jerseys. The switch back from last year’s all-yellow eyesore to the current white jerseys is a welcomed change. I was a bit disappointed to see that “EATERS” was taken off the front though, replaced by a generic UCI logo, but overall the jerseys still look nice. They also seem to be more form-fitting than in years past, but maybe that is just Patrick Rembert’s skin-tight jersey talking.

Good job Coach Turner and Mike Wilder for personally thanking the crowd pre-game. From the moment he stepped on campus, Turner has seemed invested in connecting with the students, and taking the microphone before each game represents just another approach in doing that. Now it’s time for UCI fans to come out and support their team.

Any sort of student spirit group leadership — still MIA. Ever since the old CIA leaders left, there has been no legitimate replacement in spirit leadership. As a result, all the new freshmen are clueless as to what to do after free throws (“zot zot zot,” not clap), the chants are sparse and not unified (until the end of the Concordia game when UCI was making a desperate comeback), and the Antourage is spread too thin. There should be a more concentrated group of passionate students if we want to see a louder student section at the Bren.

Illinois and USC on the road — quite the way to start the season. The Monday Illinois game happened too late for print, but it will arguably be the toughest game UCI will play all season. As for the University of Southern California, gone are the days of O.J. Mayo and DeMar DeRozan. Key contributors from last year Dwight Lewis, Marcus Johnson and Mike Gerrity are also gone. Second-year Head Coach Kevin O’Neill will instead rely on returning big men Nikola Vucevic and Alex Stepheson, both of whom will present a huge challenge for UCI. The two combined for 34 points and 25 rebounds in a monumental  upset win against No. 9 Tennessee last year. USC also will play highly touted freshmen Bryce Jones and Garrett Jackson early on. The Trojans were picked sixth in the Pac-10 by league media.

Prediction: Although the ’Eaters lost to a DeRozan-led squad in 2008’s opener, the Trojans lost the previous three season openers before that to Mercer, Cal State Northridge and South Carolina.With a seemingly inexperienced USC team this year, look for the Trojans to have some first-game jitters once again.