October 31, 2011

Chicago plays D-I team in exhibition game

The men’s basketball team will meet the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) Flames Tuesday at UIC Pavilion, pitting the senior-heavy Maroons against the D-I Flames in a friendly exhibition.

“We’re just scratching the surface of what this game is going to be able to do for our preparation,” said Head Coach Mike McGrath, entering his 13th season as coach of the men’s basketball team. The men enter the exhibition with two weeks of practice under their belts, and with two more weeks until the official start of the season.

UIC is a D-I school, but that’s not the reason McGrath scheduled an exhibition against them. The Flames’ coach, Howard Moore, was an assistant coach under McGrath some years ago. Facilitated by a mutual contact, the two thought a preseason game would be useful for both teams.

“We enjoy good competition,” said McGrath. “It’s a great chance for our kids to go out and try to compete and play to the best of their ability. Hopefully, it will help prepare us to win the UAAs.” This season, like always, McGrath said, the conference title is the ultimate goal.

To that end, the Maroons are looking for a better start and more consistent play than last season. A strong recruiting class and an experienced core with seven returning fourth-years should help them get there.

“There’s something about somebody who knows they’re playing for the last time,” said McGrath of his fourth-years. “[There is] a little difference in importance and urgency, with guys in their last year of playing competitive basketball.”

On the court, the Maroons will be led by Preseason All-American Matt Johnson, who led the UAA with 17.7 points per game last season as a junior. The memorable season featured a game in which he set the single-game scoring record at Ratner Athletic Center with 39 points. Johnson earned All-Region accolades at the end of the year.

Johnson and the other familiar faces on the squad will be joined by a recruiting class for which McGrath is optimistic.

“They’re all talented players, hard workers, and great guys,” he said of the first-years. “Each one will have a big impact on what we do over their four year careers.”

McGrath stressed that consistency would be key to Chicago’s success this year. “[We] showed at times that we can compete with anybody…. We need to do that day in, day out,” he said.

The exhibition, scheduled for 7 p.m., will be televised on the Horizon League Network, and will be available to watch online for free on the network’s website.