By Art Garcia | UTAMavs.com
ARLINGTON, Texas – UT Arlington coach Scott Cross said "we're in this thing to win it" on the Sun Belt Conference 2014-15 Preseason Men's Basketball Media Teleconference on Wednesday.
The Mavericks begin the season Nov. 14 at Bradley. The College Park Center opener is Nov. 18 against Buffalo at 7 p.m. Tickets are available at UTATickets.com.
Cross: "So far we've had some great practices and I feel like were way far ahead of where we were last year. We have a lot of intangibles that I felt like were maybe missing with our team last year. These guys are working extremely hard. There's a competitiveness that I haven't seen in the last couple years, it's been fun to be around and a fun team to coach thus far."
Lessons from UTA's first season in the Sun Belt
"We obviously found out how good the Sun Belt was. I think it was a very talented league last year with Georgia State and Lafayette; they were absolutely loaded. They're a lot of other teams that I felt had a ton of talent. It was a battle and a fight every single day. We saw that we have to be much better defensively then we were last year. That has definitely been the point of emphasis. Last year I felt like every team had at least one good inside player and we had to figure out ways in order to stop those guys or at least limit what they were able to do. If we don't then obviously we aren't going to be able to compete at that level, but I like what I'm seeing so far from our guys. I'm just really excited about the upcoming year."
Lonnie McClanahan and Jamel Outler replacing Brandon Edwards and Reger Dowell
"Obviously, Brandon Edwards is a guy that you can't replace. Rebounding is my area of concern with this team. I think we are going to have to do it more so as a team. Brandon went and got rebounds, and everybody just looked at him. Obviously, his ability to pick-and-pop is something that is hard to replace, but I do think that we may have some guys that will be able to do that. Reger is a dynamic player, no individual on our team will be able to put up the numbers that Reger was able to do, but the one thing I'm seeing so far is were having much better ball movement this year. So I think collectively were going to be more difficult to guard as a team I don't think one individual player will be as difficult to guard such as Reger even Brandon, but I think collectively we will be more difficult to defend.
"Jamel Outler and Lonnie McClanahan, both of those guys are very capable scorers. They are extremely different; they couldn't be more different in the way they score the basketball. Lonnie's an explosive driver with athleticism of someone like John Wall. He's so fast north and south, and great with ball screens. Then Jamel is one of the best spot-up shooters that I have seen, so those guys are great complements of each other. You can play them together or you can play them separately, I think they make defenses really have to game plan on how to defend the both of them."
Impact of redshirts Johnny Hill, Greg Gainey and Drew Charles
"It is a great thing that they were with us all of last year. That was one of the things that scared me at times last year is when Greg, Johnny and Drew along with some of our walk-ons were kicking our starter's butts, so that was a big area of concern for last year, but obviously it bodes well for this year. Greg was a guy that was close to double figures in scoring his junior year before he got injured. He's extremely athletic, he's an undersized power forward and he's really worked on his jump shot. I think he will be able to pick-and-pop for us. Drew Charles is an extremely tough kid, very competitive, great defender. He just makes your team better. He's just one of those glue guys that has all the intangibles. And then Johnny Hill, he started just about every game at Illinois State as a sophomore in the Missouri Valley Conference. He's as good as a leader as I've ever seen. LaMarcus Reed a couple of years ago was a great leader, Marquez Haynes before that was a great leader, but Johnny is one of the most competitive people I have ever seen and the awesome thing about him is he really thinks like a coach so it's almost like having a coach out there on the floor. He's hyper-competitive, almost like Kobe Bryant or Michael Jordan. I have to kind of turn him down in practice because I'm worried someone is going to get injured because he's playing so hard and diving on the floor. He's so competitive at everything he does."
Impression of newcomers
"First would be Kevin Harvey. He's a 6-7 power forward who we could play at the small forward and probably could play him as a center as well, because he can score inside and outside. He's one of our best shooters on the team. You could probably make a case that he could be our best shooter, so he will be able to pick-and-pop for us. He's been really good at practice so far. He can score inside does a good job rebounding, he has great hands and gets a lot of deflections, so he's been very impressive. We also have Erick Neal, who's a point guard. He's a guy that brings a great skill set. He can pass, dribble and shoot. He's a competitive kid, and he and Johnny are going at it every single day. That's a matchup that's fun to watch in practice because Johnny is such a competitor, and then Erick is getting after it too and he is so quick. I think that combination of point guards is as good as we've had in a long time."
Goals for the season
"A championship is what I'm paid and hired to do and that's the expectation for me, I think also from our players, so we're in this thing to win it. I know it's an extremely competitive league. I am well aware of what Georgia State is returning also Louisiana-Lafayette and Arkansas-Little Rock. There are some great teams in this league. We've got our work cut out for us, but that's what we have our minds set on doing and the first game of the season that's going to be our mission – to win a Conference Championship and go to the NCAA tournament."
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