UIC coach Howard Moore controlled his expectations last season.
Moore wasn't hired until late August after long-time Flames coach Jimmy Collins had decided to retire, and there was little Moore could change about his team before the season. He had hoped for success in his first year, but he was also realistic.
“Last year coming in, it was, ‘Let’s see what happens,’” Moore said. “I wasn’t going to make any preconceived notions of things.”
A season later, Moore has now conceived those notions. He understands where his team was and where it needs to be.
After going 7-24 overall and 2-16 in the Horizon League in his first season, Moore has shaken up the Flames’ roster. Some players have graduated, some have decided to transfer and one has given up a scholarship to be a walk-on. In their place, the Flames will welcome seven players and possibly an eighth.
UIC will look a whole lot different next season.
“I think the biggest thing you wanted to do [in the first season] was change the culture,” Moore said. “It hasn’t been the success Jimmy’s had in the past, but there were a lot of factors that contributed to it. Try to get your feet wet, try to figure out who can play here, who fits in as far as in recruiting and in retention. We didn’t get this job until the first day of school. We’re very pleased where we are and where we’re going forward.”
Going forward will be a youth movement for the Flames. Six of UIC’s players next season will be freshmen.
“We decided we’re going to go young and build up those guys,” Moore said. “We think that’s the right way. We don’t want to go and get only two-year guys. I feel like if you build a base of a team around 4- or 5-year kids you have a chance to develop and grow.”
Moore’s first recruiting class has a mixture of everything.
Marc Brown, a 6-3 shooting guard, can score and defend and could be the premier player in the class. Howard was recruiting Brown while at Wisconsin.
“He can go into a game and put up 20 or 30 points,” Moore said. “At the same time, he can get on the other end and lock a guy down. He’s going to make an impact as a freshman, but I’m not going to be put pressure on him to be the savior or the one.”
Jerome Brown, a 6-4 shooting guard from Morgan Park, was one of the best shooters in Chicago and the state. Greg Travis, a 5-11 point guard from Curie, and Ahman Fells, a 6-4 swingman from Simeon, also come from the Chicago Public League and were priorities for Moore when he was hired. Moore liked Travis’ toughness and thought Fells could be a match-up nightmare.
Rob Robinson, a 6-5 forward, played last season at a prep school and also previously attended Simeon. Moore also first had his eye on Robinson when at Wisconsin. Will Simonton, a 6-11 center, reminded Moore of the versatile big men the Badgers have succeeded with over the years.
The Flames also bring in Hayden Humes, a 6-8 forward transfer from Toledo, and could also add a junior college point guard to the class before it’s all said and done.
“I think you go find the best players available at the positions that are available,” Moore said. “Coming in, we knew we needed something of everything.”
Moore understood his program still had a ways to go, but he felt it was on track.
“We’re just trying to put together a program that the city of Chicago can be proud of,” Moore said. “We want to be a classy team, a classy program that does things the right way. The biggest thing is we have the right motivation, work hard and role our sleeves up and get after it.”