- Scott Powers, ESPN Staff Writer
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CHICAGO -- The future appears bright at the University of Illinois-Chicago.
With a new head coach in Howard Moore, a new staff, a new way of doing things and a handful of talented recruits already committed, there is a buzz around the program and a belief the Flames could be on the rise for years to come.
But UIC senior guard Robo Kreps and senior forward Paul Carter, the team’s captains and star players, didn’t want to talk about the future during the Flames’ basketball media day on Tuesday. Their time isn’t a few years down the road or even next season. They only have the present for the Flames to succeed.
“Robo and I have had several talks about it,” said Carter, who transferred from Minnesota to be closer to his family while his sister battled cancer. “A lot of people are saying the program is going to be great; coach is going to build it for the years to come. But all we have is now, so all we’re going to be worried about is now. We’re going to work hard like we’ve been here for years, and that’s what we’re going to do this year. We feel like we can win this year.”
The media, coaches and sports information directors who voted in the Horizon League’s preseason poll obviously don’t believe the same. With the Flames coming off a 3-15 conference season, they were picked to finish second to last in the Horizon League this season.
Kreps was aware of the prediction, but didn’t let it bother him.
“Those rankings don’t mean anything,” said Kreps, whose 15.2 points per game led the Flames last season. “It’s not where you start. It’s where you finish. I think we definitely use it as motivation, but we don’t need any motivation this year. We were 8-22 last year. We’re ready to go out and show what we can do.”
Kreps, like Carter, believes the Flames are capable of winning now.
“We’re ready,” Kreps said. “We can win 20 games this year. We’re going to sneak up on a lot of teams. We’re pretty darn good.
“First is our defense. We’re going to be getting into people. The type of defense we’ll be playing is going to help us. Offensively, we’re going to be doing things differently than last year. We’re going to be taking better shots, and everyone’s shooting percentage will go up.”
Moore echoed his players.
“It is what is,” Moore said of the preseason poll. “At the same time, we should be motivated regardless. If we’re picked first, we should be motivated. If we’re picked ninth or 10th, it’s there as well. Can you take it personally? Absolutely. We’re in this together. I told the guys, ‘They picked us ninth. So what? Let’s go play.’ No one wins a championship in October.”