Overall Rank: #57
Conference Rank: #3 C-USA
2006-07: 15-16, 7-9, 8th (t)
2006-07 postseason: none
The first year at UAB was not exactly successful for Coach Mike Davis, but year two is guaranteed to be much better. With a trio of impact transfers and a recruiting class that looks like it belongs in Memphis, not Birmingham, the Blazers will soon be back amongst the conference elite. Paul Delaney III was the leader last year and will be again this year. The 6-2 senior guard averaged 15.5 points, 5.2 assists and 4.8 rebounds on the season. He is not the greatest shooter on the team, but he will get to the basket and do plenty of scoring. Delaney ran the point last year out of necessity and will likely do so this season as well, at least early on.
The perimeter group has lost a couple starters in Wen Mukubu and Maurice Gibbs. Mukubu did a little bit of everything, or in some cases a lot, from the wing. He averaged 14.3 points, 5.7 rebounds, 2.5 assists and 1.4 steals on the season. Like Mukubu, Gibbs was a decent shooter. However, Gibbs did not do much else besides hit the long ball. Taurus Dortch and Andre White will not be suiting up for the Blazers this year after playing minimal roles off the bench last season.
The transfers are big and will be seeing quality minutes right away, but the questions at point guard are more vital to the team’s success. While Delaney has proven to be a fine point guard, he is better off at the shooting guard spot and that puts some pressure on Ed Berrios and Aaron Johnson to take over the starting job, or at least be able to occasionally move Delaney to the two. Berrios, a junior college transfer, will not put up a big numbers, but he is a true point guard and a great floor leader. With his experience, the 5-11 Bronx, New York product is expected to compete for the starting job. Johnson has some work to do before he becomes the next ‘Squeaky’ but the 5-7 point guard is a good defender and can rack up the assists. The big name guards are Channing Toney and Robert Vaden. Toney, a transfer from Georgia, will be eligible after the first semester. Toney averaged 9.8 points per game as a freshman with the Bulldogs and will instantly add some athleticism and scoring prowess off the bench once he is eligible. Vaden followed Coach Davis from Indiana and the versatile wing will do what Mukubu did last year, but maybe even a little more. Vaden is a prolific scorer, a solid rebounder and can dish out the assists and be a menace on the defensive end. Terrence Roderick often gets lost among the transfers, but the incoming freshman has his own mark to make on the program. The 6-6 guard is a solid scorer and a smart player who will use his size to his advantage on the wing. It is not just the perimeter that gets a major lift, the frontcourt adds three players who will be vying for playing time this year. Walter Sharpe, a 6-9 forward who transferred from Mississippi State, has a great physical gift. When he wants to be, Sharpe can be a dominating player in the paint and he has plenty of potential if Coach Davis can keep his head in the game. Reggie Huffman was named a NJCAA second team All-American last season and the 6-7 forward will build off that success at UAB. He is strong, athletic and deceptively quick. Incoming freshman Keenan Ellis may have the most talent of the newcomers, but his lack of experience may keep him on the bench at times this year. The 6-11, 200 pound power forward needs to add some muscle and continue to work on his post scoring, but he is a versatile athlete who can play facing the basket. Late addition Zisis Sarikopoulos is a seven-footer who has surprising quickness. At 258 pounds, the Greek native is big and strong and can dominate the paint in time. Berrios, Ellis, Sharpe, Toney and Vaden were arrested during the offseason and Coach Davis says they are being disciplined, although how they will be disciplined is unknown.
Who to Watch:
The returning frontcourt is led by Frank Holmes who averaged 6.6 points, 5.0 rebounds and 1.2 blocks last season. Jeremy Mayfield showed plenty of promise during his freshman campaign and proved to be a monster on the glass, but the 6-10, 240 pound Dallas, Texas native will have more competition for his minutes this year. Lawrence Kinnard started at power forward last season and led the team with 6.2 rebounds per game. He is a good scorer and can step outside and hit the long ball. It is his flexibility that may move him to the small forward spot, especially when Delaney is running the point.
Depth will not be a problem for the Blazers this season and probably will not be for a long, long time. Coach Davis almost always has a team that looks great on paper, but what he does with them on the court is another story. On paper this is an NCAA team. But that might not happen come game time. Even if the team does not come together on the court, they are a talented bunch who should be able to beat most C-USA teams on talent and athleticism alone.
Projected Post-season Tournament: NIT
Projected Starting Five:
Paul Delaney III, Senior, Guard, 15.5 points per game
Robert Vaden, Junior, Guard, DNP last season
Lawrence Kinnard, Junior, Forward, 13.0 points per game
Walter Sharpe, Sophomore, Forward, DNP last season
Frank Holmes, Senior, Forward, 6.6 points per game