Lloyd (Fudge) Mumford was grinning like, well, like a kid in a candy store. UC Irvine's senior guard and his mates had just defensively terrorized a weary little band of Aussies--the Brisbane Southern District Spartans--and if it wasn't as if they had shut down North Carolina, it was still a lot of fun.
"It's just go, run, jump, reckless abandon," he said after the 99-61 exhibition victory. "This is how we've all grown up playing, so everybody's playing really hard. Running up on guys. Scaring guys. Trapping all over the place. Just running around wild."
Coach Rod Baker is hoping there is a method to this because the Anteaters didn't scare anybody last season, when they blew leads and bickered their way to a 6-21 overall record. Irvine lost nine games by six or fewer points, was 4-14 in the Big West and finished in a three-way tie for eighth place.
Ten players return from that team and Baker has decided to return to his East Coast roots and re-emphasize belly-to-belly defense. Last season's top scorers, Jeff Von Lutzow and Keith Stewart, are gone, but Baker likes the athleticism and depth of the 1993-94 group.
"We have 10 players with defensive integrity, and by that I mean that it matters to them if the other team scores," he said.
The Anteaters were first in the conference in rebounding last year and they figure to play intense defense. But can they score enough points and make enough free throws--they shot 63% from the line last season--to win a few of the close ones and approach .500?
Mumford, who started all 27 games last year and set a school single-season assist record with 151, is the leading returning scorer with a 13.8-point average. This season, he will play off guard as well as point guard to increase his scoring opportunities. Junior Zuri Williams will play the point when Mumford doesn't.
"I think Lloyd has a genuine chance to play in the NBA," Baker said. "He's more than strong enough, he's worked hard to improve his (shooting) range, he's got quickness and toughness and he's got a real good feel for the game."
Up front, Irvine will be counting on 6-foot-10 senior center DeForrest Boyer, who averaged six points and 6.2 rebounds last season; 6-7 junior forward LaDay Smith, 7.3 points and 4.4 rebounds; 6-6 sophomore Shaun Battle, 4.8 points and 3.4 rebounds, and Jermaine Avie, a 6-7 transfer who averaged 12.3 points and 10.5 rebounds at the College of Eastern Utah.
"There's a lot of quickness and athletic ability on this team, but whether or not that translates into offense in a conventional way remains to be seen," Baker said. "We hope to generate some offense out of our defense, but I think we do enough good things offensively to get some open shots, and if we hit our open shots, we'll be fine."
The guys on the perimeter will be sophomore Todd Whitehead, who made 21 of 49 three-pointers last season, and juniors Elzie Love and Khalid Channell.
"I think we have a chance to at least move up from where we've been the last couple of years," Baker said. "I think the group of guys we have are a little bit fed up with their previous performances and are willing to put in the extra time to get better."