UCI building with youth

The recently captured UC Irvine men's basketball team picture is certainly the "Before" image that second-year coach Russell Turner hopes to one day look back upon with possession of a successful "After."

With eight freshmen, no seniors and only two players among five holdovers from a 13-19 season that started more than one game, getting there from here is a journey few expect the Anteaters to complete this season.

But with so much still unproven — an average of .71 years of Division I experience per player makes UCI the youngest team in Division I this season — Turner said he is hesitant to either reveal or limit expectations.

"We've got the energy and enthusiasm that goes with youth," Turner said of a group that must replace its top three scorers from a unit that finished tied for seventh in the Big West Conference.

UCI is picked dead last in this season's preseason poll.

"I don't want to lose any of my edge because somebody else's expectations for this team might not be high," Turner said. "I don't think there is anyone on our team that doesn't feel like we can accomplish some great things this season.

"I'm not going to hide from the fact that we got picked to finish ninth. But I don't expect us to be a last-place team and I guarantee you that nobody on our team does. It's not all that common for the people who make those predictions to be altogether right."

But while Turner sees a bright future, he is admittedly unsure of the present.

"I'm still getting to know these guys and figuring out what we have," Turner said. "It is fascinating to look at the difference in our team from last year to this year, from the sheer number of people we lost and have added new."

Among those lost to graduation are starting guards Darren Moore (17 points per game) and Patrick Rembert (12.2 ppg), while Eric Wise (16.3 points and 8.1 rebounds per contest), a 6-foot-6, 240-pound three-year starter, transferred to USC.

In three seasons, Wise earned second-team all-conference honors twice and was the most talented player the program has seen since All-American candidate and two-time Big West Player of the Year Jerry Green starred in the early 2000s.

The small veteran nucleus starts with junior Mike Wilder, a versatile 6-2 battler who played four positions with pluck last season, when he averaged 9.5 points and 5.7 rebounds while starting 19 games.

"One of the things the injuries we had last year did was allow us to discover all the different things [Wilder] can do to help us win," Turner said. "I know I can count on him for just about any play that needs to be made from a good basketball player."

Daman Starring, a 6-3 junior guard who started 30 games last season after transferring from Centenary, averaged 7.4 points in 2010-11. He will be among those taking over for Rembert at point guard, Turner said.

Chris McNealy, a 6-4 sophomore oozing with promise, could be a breakout performer after averaging 5.0 points in a little more than 19 minutes last season.

"I think he is ready to announce his presence to the Big West," Turner said of McNealy, who has added muscle to a long, athletic frame. "It's going to be interesting for our fans to see the development in him this year."

Derick Flowers is a junior guard projected to add depth to a crowded backcourt, while Turner hopes Adam Folker, a 6-foot-9 junior who earned a medical redshirt year last season and is still battling to come back from hip surgery, can stay healthy enough to anchor a frontcourt long on promise, but lean on experience.

Will Davis, a 6-8 freshman out of a New Hampshire prep school, by way of Sacramento, and Mike Best, a 6-10 freshman from San Rafael, are two inside players who could help dial up Turner's fast-pace offensive scheme.

John Ryan, a 6-10, 260-pound transfer from Fresno State, is required to redshirt this season, while Marcus Bradley, a 6-5 freshman out of Corona del Mar High, could see action at a forward spot.

"We are longer and much more athletic as a group," Turner said. "But we look a little like a high school team that is wearing uniforms that don't fit them."

Turner identifies shooting as another strength of this team, which could also be bolstered by freshmen guards Collin Woods, a heralded recruit from Arizona, and Cerritos High product Aaron Wright.

Kevin Malloy, a 6-6 tweener who redshirted last season, is another player waiting to emerge, Turner said.

The Anteaters play exhibition games against Cal Baptist (Wednesday at 7 p.m.) and San Diego Christian (Saturday at 7), both at the Bren Events Center, which will soon add a new video scoreboard.

UCI has road games at Cal, Wyoming, LSU and UCLA, and is also venturing to the Great Alaska Shootout.

The regular-season home opener is Nov. 19 against Weber State and the 'Eaters open conference play at Cal State Northridge on Dec. 29.


Twitter: @BarryFaulkner5

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