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UCI building with youth

Men's Basketball

Anteaters have eight freshmen, no seniors, and are picked to finish last in Big West.

November 01, 2011|By Barry Faulkner
(Daily Pilot File…)

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.

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"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.

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