Antourage Insider: Undersized, Underestimated

Even though the Anteaters could not hang on against Louisiana Tech, the weekend tournament was a success. The team got a chance to play without Eric Wise, giving the role players a chance to find their groove and gain some confidence. Head Coach Russell Turner made the most out of the seeming injury “curse,” turning it into a weekend of opportunity for the complimentary players.

The Anteaters have been playing small — very small. With Chupin still ineligible, Adam Folker injured, Peter Simek still recovering and Wise hobbled, UCI’s depth in the post, already light to begin with, is now extremely thin. At one point, the ’Eaters sported a lineup with Emil Kim, at 6 feet 5 inches,  as the tallest guy on the court against Navy. However, they actually looked pretty good together, with Navy not getting many points in the paint even with Kim manning the center spot.

“We played really small but we won the rebound battle … I didn’t feel like there was anything that hurt us about being small out there,” Turner said. “They only got eight points in the paint.”

With Wise out against Seattle, UCI started four guards, including Kim, while playing 6 foot 2 inch Mike Wilder at the power forward spot for 37 minutes.

Speaking of Emil Kim, I think a tip of the cap is necessary. You will be hard-pressed to find a true walk-on get so many minutes for a non-scandal ravaged team, especially one with so many returning players. I believe it’s a testament to Kim’s hustle on defense and intangibles — he’s always good for a few steals or stealth points when he’s in the game.

Kim started in the Big West Tournament last year under Pat Douglass, and now is earning the favor of Turner, showing that his playing time is not an aberration. Antourage, be sure to support your underdogs!

The end of the UCI bench is turning into a fashion show. Junior Jonas Lalehzadeh has a MCL injury, and is out indefinitely. Folker is still out with his broken hand. Kevin Mulloy is redshirting, Maxime Chupin is still ineligible, and Brandon Scott is out all year due to a knee injury as well. When Wise joined the bunch on Saturday, it combined for a sharp-dressed bench over the weekend; hopefully we’ll see them all back on the floor sooner than later.

More on Wise’s status: “He’s been hobbled by a muscle strain that affects his groin and his back … He lined up and tried to do it [on Friday], and I commend him for that,” Turner said.

Even with all those injuries, Turner played 11 guys in his rotation against Navy. With Wise out against Seattle, the remaining 10 guys each saw at least 10 minutes of game time.

“One of the strengths of this team is that a lot of guys on this team are relatively equal in ability,” Turner said. “ … I do recognize I have a lot of guys who can contribute … we’re committed to an up-tempo style of play with fast-paced aggressive defense; we’re going to have to keep moving guys in and out of the game.”

It was exciting to see the entire team play so well, basically locking up two wins without a healthy Eric Wise — one without him at all. This is an extremely encouraging sign for the rest of the season, especially considering the return of Folker and hopeful debut of Chupin.

Peter Simek has seen little court time despite the lack of depth at center, but it’s not his fault. Due to a hand injury during the offseason, and then having the flu all of last week, Simek has not been in the flow of practice consistently. However, the Slovakian native finally contributed against Seattle, with five points and a block in 16 minutes.

There is an update on Chupin’s status with the NCAA, albeit a minor one.

“We agreed to the facts in the case, and they’re going to go to re-instatement on Monday they say,” Turner said. “Reinstatement will evaluate just exactly the [current] situation, hopefully they rule that he’s eligible right now. If they don’t rule that, they’ll rule on what Maxime would have to do to become eligible. That could mean sitting out some games or repaying some money. It doesn’t feel like the resolution is imminent. There’s a chance we’ll know something by Thanksgiving; that’d be a great gift.”

Despite the always unpredictable forecast of high school players, Turner’s first two early commitments for 2011-2012 definitely look like impact players that bring something new to the table. Arizona 5A-II Player of the Year Collin Woods, a combo guard who very well may play the point for UCI, received high marks from ESPN. He also reportedly turned down several bigger name programs for UCI.

“I do think that Collin Woods is the type of talent who’s going to have an immediate impact,” Turner said.
The second recruit is 7-0 center Thanos Thodos, a native of Greece. He embodies Turner’s dedication to recruiting internationally, and he definitely becomes the true center that the ’Eaters are lacking.

“Thanos is a talent, and he’s got tremendous size and potential,” Turner said. “He’s got a ways to go to be a finished product, and how early he’ll be able to contribute here is hard for me to say. I know he’s a long way from being as good as he can be. But I’ve got a lot of faith in our ability to help him get better because he’s got a great motor for the game; he’s got tremendous drive to get better.”