Turner-led Anteaters begin climb

UCI's first-year coach promises exciting style, but Wise & Co. likely to endure growing pains.

November 06, 2010|By Barry Faulkner,

First-year coach Russ Turner has a vision for UC Irvine men's basketball that includes becoming a power in the Big West Conference, a noteworthy mid-major program that competes in the NCAA Tournament, and also capturing a market share of the Orange County sports landscape.

What he has now, however, is the second-best team in the city.

The Anteaters' 86-76 exhibition loss Friday to neighboring Concordia, an NAIA power, was the second straight to the Eagles, for whom former Anteater Justin Johnson was Golden State Athletic Conference Player of the Year last season.

But Turner, who spent the last six seasons as an NBA assistant with the Golden State Warriors, after 10 combined seasons as an assistant at Stanford and Wake Forest, has been working doggedly since he was hired in April to help awaken a UCI program that had slipped below mediocrity under 13-year coach Pat Douglass.


Douglass guided UCI to two regular-season conference titles and three straight 20-win seasons from 2000 to 2003. But his final seven seasons produced a 102-114 combined record, including 14-18 last season, that led to his departure.

In steps Turner, a former two-time All-American at Division III Hampden-Sydney College in Virginia, where his 2,272 points still rank No. 1 in school career annals. He signed a five-year contract and inherited a roster with a dozen returners but, some might say, a dearth of Division I talent.

The marquee player is 6-foot-6 junior Eric Wise, a two-time second-team all-conference performer who led the team in scoring (16.3), rebounding (6.5) and assists (3.0) as a sophomore, only the second UCI player ever to do so.

Back also are senior guards and co-captains Darren Moore, who started all 32 games last season and averaged 11.2 points and 4.6 rebounds, and Patrick Rembert, who started 15 games as a junior and averaged 5.4 points.

Eight additional returners (Brandon Scott is redshirting) bring modest credentials and ability, but Turner was able to bring in a trio of newcomers who could bolster the rotation.

Damon Starring, a 6-4 sophomore guard, averaged 11.7 points last season at Centenary College in Louisiana, where he ventured out of El Toro High.

Maxime Chupin, an energetic 6-8 freshman, was lured from France, where he helped his Cholet club team win the French League championship and he had previously played for the under 18 national team. Chupin, however, is awaiting eligibility clearance by the NCAA, with no word on how long that process might take.

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