2007-08 Illinois Chicago Basketball Preview
Illinois Chicago Flames
Overall Rank: #105
Conference Rank: #2 Horizon
2006-07: 14-18, 7-9, 4th (t)
2006-07 postseason: none
UIC looked a lot better in April than they do now. The team’s leading scorer, Othyus Jeffers, is headed out of the program and T.J. Gray has opted to forego his final year of eligibility. That is a big, big hit to the backcourt, but once the dust and disappointment settles around the Jeffers departure, this is still a team that has some talent and can be in the mix for the coveted spot behind Butler in the Horizon League standings. Yet, the program could just as easily throw in the towel before the season even starts with the once lofty expectations suddenly dwindling.
Jeffers, a 6-5 wing, led the team with 15.4 points, 8.6 rebounds and 1.7 steals and the diminutive Gray added 11.1 points and 1.9 assists. Seldom used guard D.J. Smedley will not be suiting up for the Flames next year either. Almost as important as the perimeter losses are the losses up front. Jovan Stefanov started all 32 contests for UIC and averaged 9.9 points and 5.7 rebounds and Danijel Zoric played an important role off the bench for part of the 2006-2007 season.
The talent coming in will keep UIC in the upper half of the conference. Jeremy Buttell, a transfer from Texas Tech, will use his 6-7, 225 pound frame to battle in the paint. He also has a decent mid-range shot and will help stretch out the defense. Byron Pickens is a more athletic forward and the 6-7 Chicago native has the ability to help in the rebounding and shot blocking departments as a freshman. Tori Boyd and Billy Baptist will immediately bolster the depth on the wing. Boyd is a solid shooter and Baptist, a versatile junior college transfer, can play at the two, three and four spots for UIC. Sharpshooting combo guard Robert Kreps brings his hardnosed football attitude to the court and has the skills and smarts to contribute right away.
Who to Watch:
Josh Mayo was not expecting to be the star of the team, but now he will be. The 5-10 junior will take the big shots and how he handles being the go-to-guy will have a big effect on the team. Mayo, despite being hampered by an achilles injury, shot over 40 percent from beyond the arc and averaged 11.8 points per game. Robert Bush came on strong at the end of last season and will need to continue that success as a senior. During the last nine games of the season, which were the only nine games the 6-4 guard started last year, Bush averaged 9.8 points and 3.8 rebounds. If he can keep that up for a whole year, UIC will be fine. The most intriguing backcourt option may be Spencer Stewart. The 6-4 sophomore started a dozen games his first year in the program and proved to be a smart floor leader. If he develops any sort of scoring threat, Stewart will be a surprisingly good player. Karl White only played in 14 games last year and has yet to develop into the scorer he was once projected to be, but he will at least provide some experience off the bench.
Scott Vandermeer returns to the center position after scoring 5.1 points, grabbing 5.6 rebounds and blocking 3.5 shots per game in 2006-2007. As long as the 6-11, 250 pounder can stay out of foul trouble, he is an effective big man on both ends of the floor. Jermaine Dailey showed flashes of his potential his first year with the Flames after spending some time at Three Rivers Community College. At the least, he is a decent big man to eat up some fouls and battle in the paint. The frontcourt may lack a little bit of depth, but they are still a decent group and, even without Jeffers, the perimeter has a few scoring options. As long the team plays as a team and can avoid further defections and injuries, UIC will be competitive in the Horizon League.
Projected Post-season Tournament: none
Projected Starting Five:
Spencer Stewart, Sophomore, Guard, 4.2 points per game
Josh Mayo, Junior, Guard, 11.8 points per game
Robert Bush, Senior, Guard, 6.8 points per game
Jeremy Buttell, Sophomore, Forward, DNP last season
Scott Vandermeer, Junior, Center, 5.1 points per game