Antourage Insider: Hanging With the Big Boys

A 14-point loss to Illinois is respectable, and it could have been a lot worse. A clearly frazzled and nervous Anteater team combined with a red-hot Brandon Paul nailing five 3-pointers in the first 20 minutes for No. 13 Illinois meant a 42-18 halftime deficit for UC Irvine. However, the ’Eaters did not give up, outscoring the Fighting Illini 47-37 in the second half. UCI looked visibly sharper, jumping into passing lanes to get some steals and easy points. Part of that may have been Illinois letting up, but the end result is still a lot more encouraging than last year’s 89-42 loss to Texas.

UCI’s 13-point loss to USC was slightly disappointing, as I was hoping for a single-digit margin game, but all in all, not too bad of a start to the season for the Anteaters.

Biggest surprise: Pavol Losonsky. With starting center Adam Folker out, UCI is really going to have to depend on Losonsky, Folker’s replacement, in the starting lineup. He has the offensive weaponry to be the third scorer on this team behind Eric Wise and Darren Moore, so it has been good to see things start to come together for the Slovakia native. Eleven points and four rebounds against Illinois was a fine start, as Losonsky displayed a markedly increased confidence level in his three-point shot and in his overall game at the Division I level. He followed that up with 13 points and eight rebounds against USC. After shooting just twice from downtown all last season, Losonsky’s willingness to take the outside shot was revealed through five attempted three-point baskets on Monday. His defense and passing also seemed improved — we could be in for a breakout season from Losonsky this year. After being a relatively highly touted junior college transfer, it’s now or never for the senior, and it’s certainly common for JC players to take a year to fully flourish in Division I ball. Losonsky looks like a completely different player this year.

Chris McNealy also will be someone to watch this season. The freshman is already getting more playing time than sophomore guards Daman Starring, Derick Flowers and Mike Wilder, putting up eight points on 3-5 field goal shooting (2-2 from three) against Illinois. The 6-foot-3-inch 2010 Northern California Player of the Year is a surprisingly good rebounder, and could end up being one of the team’s better 3-point shooters as well. Against USC, McNealy entered the starting lineup in place of sophomore Daman Starring.

On tap — Navy, Seattle University and Louisiana Tech at the Bren, all in one weekend! As opposed to recent years, where UCI has traveled to other states to play in regular season tournaments, this year the Anteaters get to host a sub-regional in the 2K Sports Classic benefiting Coaches vs. Cancer. The result is the rare treat of three home games (including the home opener) in one weekend at the Bren.

Navy is an average to slightly-above-average team in the Patriot League. The midshipmen are led by guard Jordan Sugars, point guard O.J. Avworo and center Mark Veazey. Sugars averaged an impressive 15 points and eight rebounds per game, despite only being 6-foot-4-inches tall. He was named to the Preseason All-Patriot team this year as a junior.
Avworo is a playmaking senior who averaged an impressive 5.8 assists per game last year. Veazey, a 6-foot-11-inch senior center, might pose a problem for the shorter Anteaters, as he compiled five blocks against Texas.

Seattle, coached by former UCI assistant coach Cameron Dollar, is a real crapshoot this season as they only return five letter-winners from last season. Gone is star Charles Garcia, who declared early for the NBA draft. Look out for a committee approach to replacing Garcia’s points and boards, led by forwards Aaron Broussard and Alex Jones, as well as guard Cervante Burrell. Former UCI recruit Brandon Durham, who committed before the 2009-2010 season, but ultimately ended up attending Lane Community College, now plays for Seattle. The ’Eaters have suffered a close loss to the Redhawks in each of the last two seasons.

Louisiana Tech went 24-11 last year and played in the Tournament last season. However, leading scorer Kyle Gibson, star forward Magnum Rolle, a second-round pick in the 2010 NBA Draft and 67 percent of the team’s scoring has graduated. Among their six returners, the Bulldogs will be led by forward Olu Ashaolu and guard DeAndre Brown.

Forecast: Navy has done the least in years past, but brings proven talent. The ’Eaters will need to capitalize on Seattle’s and Louisiana Tech’s lack of chemistry within their respective teams, as both bring many new unproven faces.
These three games will be hard-fought and evenly matched, but I believe the ’Eaters have the potential to sweep the weekend tournament. At the same time, UCI  could lose all three. Hopefully against some guys their own size, the ’Eaters will be able to shoot better and start off faster as well.