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Collins: “I could do this for 3-4 more years”

VETERAN FLAMES COACH FEELS HEALTHY, OPTIMISTIC

April 7, 2008

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After rebounding from a major health scare, Jimmy Collins says he would like to coach at UIC for at least for a few more years.

Moments after his team’s loss to Butler in the semifinals of the Horizon League tournament last month, UIC coach Jimmy Collins reflected positively on the season that had just ended and felt like good things were coming.

Just over a year after his major health scare, Collins led the Flames to an 18-15 record and a fourth-place tie in the Horizon League. One prognosticator said UIC would win just 10 games, while the consensus believed the Flames would end up in the eighth place in conference.

“I thought we had a pretty good year in the light of everything,” Collins said. “My expectations were always higher than 10 wins, but I we did extremely well to win 18 games and finish up with the fourth seed. I thought we should have been higher.

“At the beginning of the year, I was thinking we could win 22 games. If the ball fell right, we’d probably would have won those 22.”

Collins is the winningest coach in UIC history and has taken the Flames to three NCAA tournaments and one NIT in his 12 years on the bench. However, Collins’ Flames haven’t been to the postseason since 2004 and he is entering the final year of his contract.

Collins said that there haven’t been any discussions for an extension beyond the 2008-09 season, but he has desires to stay a while longer.

“Coaching is something that I love doing,” Collins said. “I would like to think I could do this for 3-4 more years, but it’s something I’ll be thinking about (during the off-season).”

Collins will have plenty of talent returning to the roster next season with senior guard Josh Mayo, the team’s leading scorer, and senior center Scott VanderMeer, who is the most dominant post player in the Horizon League, leading the way.

Point guard Spencer Stewart will be a junior and shooting guard Robert “Robo” Kreps will be a sophomore after a solid rookie campaign. Wing guard Tori Boyd came on strong at the end of his freshman year and will have an increased role on the next season’s squad.

Forward Jeremy Buttell will be entering his third year in the Flames’ system (his second as a player after sitting out a year following his transfer from Texas Tech). Power forward Jovan Ignjatovic will be entering his fourth season in the program as he redshirted his freshman year. He showed some glimpses of solid play in the post last season.

“I think we have the nucleus of a good team,” Collins said. “It’s all going to rest on their shoulders in terms in how much they work and how hard they work.”

The Flames will also have a good amount of newcomers. The two recruits that signed during the November Letter of Intent period, forward Jelani Poston and guard Zavion Neely, will counted upon a great deal. Also, guards Kris Harris and Chris Buchanan, who sat out last season as junior college transfers, will be eligible to play next season.

Buchanan played at Joliet Junior College for two seasons after prepping at Providence High School. He averaged 19.0 points, 4.7 rebounds, 2.4 assists and 1.8 steals in his sophomore year in 2006-07. He shot 45 percent from the field and 32 percent from three-point range.

“Those kids have shown good promise,” Collins said. “With Poston and Neely coming in, we’ve got some pretty good prospects. Neely’s very quick. (Assistant coach) Tracy [Dildy] seems to think he’s going to be really good.”

Collins suggested that Poston should be able to slide in and take over from Jermaine Dailey, who blossomed in the post late last season.

“Poston will be able to do it,” Collins said. “Scott and Jeremy will be a lot better. Maybe we’ll pluck another one or two guys from the junior college ranks.”

With the final year of Collins’ contract looming, he is not letting any outside influences bother him as the program hasn’t made a postseason berth in four years, especially with the difficult seasons prior to this one.

“I haven’t felt any pressure to quit or step down,” he said. “I’ve been told basically the opposite. I wouldn’t let anybody pressure me in that way. The chat boxes (Internet message boards), you’ll be probably read anything, but if I really started to feel pressure, I’d quit myself; I wouldn’t let it go that route.”

BLAZIN’ ON THE RECRUITING TRAIL: The Flames have had their eyes on several players over the past few months and rate highly with a few of them.

UIC is in the running for 6-foot-9 center Steve Goins of Curie, along with South Florida, Texas A&M-Corpus Christi and Horizon League rival Detroit.

The Flames have also shown interest in Englewood 6-5 wing DeMarkus Isom-Jones. He averaged 24 points and eight rebounds as a senior and also has drawn interest from Southern Illinois and Eastern Michigan.

The Flames also continue to have influence downstate as UIC is one of several schools to be interested in 6-5 Champaign Central wing Donald “Ducky” Stewart, who has also gotten looks from Loyola and Youngstown State.

Six-foot-7 forward Robert Eppinger of Highland Community College is a strong possibility for the Flames. Eppinger, who had offers from Cincinnati, Wright State, South Florida and Murray State, averaged 13.2 points, 7.4 rebounds and 1.5 assists as a sophomore at Highland. He helped Rockford Jefferson High to an IHSA Class AA fourth-place finish as a junior there.

There have been rumors of Marshall’s 6-3 guard Ryan Hare, who helped the Commandos win the IHSA Class 3A championship, being interested in UIC. Schools prominently mentioned as suitors are Southern Illinois, Texas A&M-Corpus Christi, Wyoming and Hawaii. Hare originally committed to Oregon State, but decided to re-open his recruitment before his senior season.

Simeon’s 6-foot guard Josh Anderson, son of former Illini and NBA star Nick Anderson, averaged 11.0 points per game as a senior on a loaded Wolverines team. Anderson’s top schools include UIC, IPFW and Grambling. There has also been varying degrees of interest from Duquesne, Columbia, Iowa, Rutgers and Villanova.

UIC also offered 6-5 swingman Al Rapier of Perspectives back in the fall.

UIC has also been linked in being destinations for two Division I transfers – Illinois forward/center Brian Carlwell and Milwaukee forward Tim Flowers. Flowers, a First-Team All-State performer at Simeon in 2007, was being recruited by UIC before he decided to sign with Milwaukee.

The Flames are also scouting underclass prospects including North Lawndale junior Jonathan Mills and Curie freshman Wayne Blackshear. Mills, a 6-5 forward, has been getting looks from DePaul, Illinois State, Washington State, Baylor, Akron, Albany and Western Michigan.

Blackshear, the No. 1 ranked freshman in the state, is also generating interest from Illinois, DePaul, Purdue, Wisconsin, Kentucky, Connecticut and Boston College.

Recruiting information sources include: Chicago Tribune, Chicago Sun-Times, Rockford Register Star, chicagohoops.com, ilprepbullseye.com, illinoishsbasketball.com, midstatehoops.com.

EARLY LOOK AT SCHEDULE: A home game with DePaul highlights what should be solid 2008-09 schedule. The Flames will also play Northern Iowa and a Bracket Buster game at the UIC Pavilion. There will be several non-conference road games, including CBI runner-up Bradley, Georgia Tech, Illinois State, Akron and Toledo.

Photo: Steve Woltmann/UIC Athletics

Justin Bowen is still shooting for his NBA dream as a member of the Austin Toros.

FLAMES FLICKERS: Former UIC forward Justin Bowen (2003-06) continues to have a solid second season with the Austin Toros of the D-League. Bowen is averaging 12.8 points and 6.3 rebounds in 43 games this season. He poured in a career-best 32 points on 13-for-18 shooting against Bakersfield on March 30 in a game that will be televised on a tape-delayed basis at 3 p.m. Central this Monday on NBA TV. …

Former UIC assistant coach and current Notre Dame assistant Gene Cross is a candidate for the vacant head coaching job at Toledo. …

Former Flame Othyus Jeffers (2005-07), who left UIC after his junior season, was named an NAIA First-Team All-American after leading Robert Morris to a 28-4 record and a NAIA tournament quarterfinal appearance. Jeffers averaged 22.2 points and 9.1 rebounds per game for the Eagles.

Former UIC guard Bobby Locke (1985-87), now a coach, led Evanston High School to a third-place finish in the IHSA Class 4A tournament.

In other recent news:
Flames' seniors reflect (3/18/08)
HORIZON TOURNEY: Weary Flames bow out in semifinals (at Butler) (3/9/08)
HORIZON TOURNEY: Flames freshmen close out Loyola (3/8/08)
HORIZON TOURNEY: Loyola awaits UIC for Round 3 (3/6/08)
HORIZON TOURNEY: Balance boosts Flames past YSU (3/5/08)
Mayo, VanderMeer receive Horizon honors (3/4/08)
VanderMeer lifts Flames to No. 4 seed (at Milwaukee) (3/2/08)