UIC coach Howard Moore says he never lost focus over the last two years that he would eventually turn the program around even if others wanted to see change immediately.
From the start, the odds were against him. Moore hadn't been hired until August, 2010 because former coach Jimmy Collins didn't decide until July to retire. With the late start, Moore's first season was a bumpy one. The Flames went 7-24 with 14 double-digit losses in his first year, and he had to take some chances in recruiting.
The second year was a slight improvement. He landed a few more quality recruits, and his team went 8-22 with nine double-digit losses. While the results weren't exactly what he hoped for, he was slowly seeing the program's culture change.
And now into Moore's third season, UIC is finally developing into the team Moore believed it could always be. The Flames have opened with a 6-1 record, which has included a road win against Northwestern. Their lone loss was a seven-point defeat to No. 18 New Mexico.
"It's never easy," Moore said by phone on Tuesday. "It's never easy. This is a difficult profession. Not everyone is built to be a college coach, especially when you have to rebuild a program. Unfortunately, we live in an instant-gratification society. Everyone wants things done right way. They want success the quick route. I've never done that. You roll up your sleeves and get to work.
"We're starting to get a glimpse of what we can do. We're not satisfied."
That's one main difference between this year's team and the past two. In Moore's first season, the Flames defeated Illinois, which was ranked No. 14, in front of a packed Illini crowd at the United Center, and the victory did satisfy UIC.
"It was their championship," Moore said.
But now, the Flames want more.
"I like that our players didn't over-do it after the Northwestern win," said Moore, whose team hosts undefeated Colorado State on Saturday. "They were excited. They were happy. I have a feeling it's different this time. That win doesn't make our season. It's a good road win over a BCS game. There's a whole lot of season left."
Moore isn't claiming the Flames are a NCAA tournament team. He has been extremely pleased with their defense, which is holding opponents to .366 from the field. He's liked what starters Josh Crittle, Hayden Humes, Marc Brown, Daniel Barnes and Gary Talton have provided. He's noticed the bench and the freshmen gradually improve. But there's still plenty of room for improvement, especially in its offense which is shooting .378 from the field.
It's still a step-by-step process for Moore.
"For our program, we got to win small victories before talk about competing with teams at the top of the (Horizon League)," Moore said. "Right now, we're working our way up, figuring out how to win.
"I'm absolutely pleased, but I'm obviously not satisfied. That's the message the team has now we're not satisfied. We haven't arrived yet. We have a long way to go before we can be mentioned with Valpo and Detroit."