Howard Moore got a late start to his initial season as head coach at UIC.
The former Wisconsin assistant didn't take over until August and the Flames had a tough season, finishing 2-16 in the Horizon League.
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"You didn't have time to build the relationships, and that's what this is all about when you're talking about college athletics and college basketball, in particular," Moore said. "You've got to have a feel for your players.
"We didn't go through that process. It was pretty much, 'Hi guys, I'm your coach. All right, let's get on the line and go.'"
As tough as it was last year, the new season may not be much easier. UIC lost its top five scorers. The top returnees are a pair of seniors, 6-9 Darrin Williams (4.9 ppg) and 6-7 Paris Carter (4.8 ppg).
Moore is telling his team to ignore the doubters. But predictions of a long season for the Flames seem to be based more on harsh reality than any negative bias.
"I look at it as an opportunity to get out there and show this young team that they can be better than what people perceive them to be," Moore said. "If we defend, if we rebound, if we take care of the basketball and play hard, then we'll always have a chance."
Moore should feel right at home at UIC. He's a West Side native who attended Taft High School, then later played guard on Wisconsin's 1994 NCAA Tournament team with Michael Finley, Rashard Griffith and Tracy Webster.
One good sign for the Flames is they should have enough veterans where they don't have to rely heavily on freshmen. Besides Williams and Carter, UIC has some experienced guards in Matt Bush and Daniel Barnes. Both former junior college transfers, Bush played in two games last season and Barnes five before suffering season-ending knee injuries.
The Flames will be counting on contributions from 6-1 point guard Gary Talton, a Dallas native who led Mountain View (Tex.) Community College to a national championship last year.
"He's won at every level leading up to this particular team," Moore said. "There's a good nucleus of veteran leadership there. Not typical four-year guys, but guys who have been around. The young guys can really lean on them to figure out how to play at this level."