There should be a positive vibe any time a new coach takes over a college basketball program.
The honeymoon needs to be taken advantage of, both with fans and boosters and, most importantly, with recruits. There is something new and fresh to sell and the excitement that comes along with the hire is always beneficial.
UIC and head coach Steve McClain are still in that honeymoon phase and appear to be making the most of it –– even before this staff has coached a single game.
Earlier this fall the Flames landed Belleville Althoff standout Tarkus Ferguson, an athletic 6-3 guard who is ranked among the City/Suburban Hoops Report’s top 10 prospects in the Class of 2016 in Illinois. Now they’ve added a very intriguing 6-7 perimeter player in Jordan Blount, a skilled, fundamentally sound European-style threat with international experience.
While Ireland isn’t exactly a hoops hotbed, the sport is gaining some steam on the island and Blount has been called “the hottest prospect out of Ireland” in years. Plus, he’s spent the past few years away from home, playing in England and Spain, before settling in at SPIRE Institute in Ohio this year.
The UIC staff solid itself, which immediately grabbed Blount’s attention in the recruiting process.
“The relationships I had with the coaching staff stood out to me immediately,” says Blount. “I was with coach McClain for five minutes and it felt like I knew him my entire life. The staff, from coach McClain to [assistant] coach [Brendan] Mullins, was a big factor in my decision.”
And there was the “fresh factor” and being a part of “something new” that enticed Blount as well.
“I want to be a big name in the UIC rebuilding process,” says Blount. “I am looking forward to the challenge, and I’m excited about the opportunity I’ll have at UIC, being a part of something new and building it.”
Blount, a player with skill and great size on the perimeter, can promise one thing –– and it’s something every coach loves to hear in helping to establish their own culture.
“I can guarantee that they will be getting a player who play hard every single day, every single possession,” says Blount. “As a slow, unathletic white kid from Ireland, I know I have to prove myself every day, and I know how hard I have to play.”
The current young group of players in the program, both currently on campus and those ready to join next year in Ferguson and Blount, have the arrow pointing up.
There was promising big man Tai Odiase, a sophomore from Homewood-Flossmoor recruited by the previous staff, already on board.
Then McClain and his assistants added a weapon in Dominique Matthews, a 6-2 scoring combo guard. Matthews starred at St. Rita before spending a year at Victory Rock Prep School in Florida. In addition to Matthews, ultra-promising freshman Dikembe Dixson, an athletic 6-7 forward, is one to watch.
Matthews and Dixson highlight a freshman class that includes Bolingbrook big man Julian Torres, guard Drew Hackett, the all-time leading scorer at Munster (Ind.) High School, and a pair of prospects from Texas: 6-7 Hassan Thomas (13 ppg, 12 rpg as a senior in high school) and guard Michael Kolawole, who averaged 22 points a game as a senior in high school.