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Marquee names on non-conference schedule


July 8, 2009

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UIC coach Jimmy Collins welcomes a non-conference schedule which includes Oregon State, Wisconsin and DePaul.

The First Brother-In-Law will be coming to the UIC Pavilion.

Oregon State, coached by Craig Robinson, the brother-in-law of President Barack Obama, will be the premier non-conference home foe this season as UIC announced the majority of its non-conference opponents for the 2009-10 season on Wednesday.

The Beavers won the Collegiate Basketball Invitational despite possessing a losing record for most of the season. Oregon State will be the first Pac-10 team to invade the Pavilion since Oregon defeated the Flames 65-58 on Nov. 23, 1999. Robinson, who is the brother of Michelle Obama, is a Chicago native and a former assistant at Northwestern.

UIC will also play at Wisconsin for the first time since the 1981-82 when the Flames defeated the Badgers 74-66—UIC’s first win as a Division I program. Wisconsin is coached by Bo Ryan, who faced the Flames four times as coach at Milwaukee earlier this decade.

UIC also travels to nearby Allstate Arena to face DePaul in the last of a three-game contract. The Flames and Blue Demons have split the two previous meetings, each winning on the opposition’s court.

Other home games include in-state rivals Northern Illinois and Illinois State and a visit from former Flames assistant Gene Cross and his Toledo Rockets.

Additional announced road games include Southern Illinois, Akron and a Bracket Buster game.

The Flames’ complete schedule, including 18 dates against Horizon League foes, will be announced later this summer.

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Josh Mayo (left) and Scott VanderMeer have high hopes for their professional careers.

VANDERMEER IN NBA SUMMER LEAGUE: Center Scott VanderMeer, who recently wrapped up his Flames career was invited to play with the Indiana Pacers’ summer league team. VanderMeer is wearing No. 48 during the five-day league schedule this week.

He is competing with Tyler Hansbrough (North Carolina) Roy Hibbert (Georgetown), Josh McRoberts (Duke). VanderMeer has played sparingly in the Pacers’ first three contests.

VanderMeer also spent time at the prestigious Portsmouth Invitational, an event for the nation’s 64 seniors to display their talents for NBA and European scouts, back in April. He also had private workouts with the Bulls and Milwaukee Bucks.

The 7-foot VanderMeer was the Flames’ all-time leader in blocks with 273 in his three-year career. He was also a three-time member of the Horizon League All-Defensive Team.

VanderMeer’s old UIC teammate, Josh Mayo recently had private workouts with the Dallas Mavericks and Milwaukee Bucks. Mayo finished fourth on the Flames’ career scoring list with 1,712 points, was second in three-pointers (266) and fourth in assists (371).

Mayo got a good review after the workout with the Bucks.

“He did a good job,” said Dave Babcock, the Bucks’ Director of Player Personnel on the team’s Web site. “He’s more of a scoring point guard.”

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Former associate head coach Mark Coomes addresses UIC players and supporters during the annual team banquet on April 21.

COOMES SAYS GOOD-BYE: Mark Coomes, associate coach for the last 13 years, departed at the end of April. Coomes announced his retirement before the start of last season.

“Among the best basketball years of my life, several of them were here,” Coomes said at the team banquet on April 21.

Coomes said the 1997-98 UIC team that went 22-6 and defeated teams NCAA tournament teams like Michigan State, Illinois State and Valparaiso was the best team he was associated with.

“I’ll take that team over my Final Four (1989 at Illinois),” Coomes said.

Coomes had been at Collins for much of the last 25 years, which dates back to their days as assistants at Illinois.

“It’s going to be really hard to wake up after a game and not have him to talk to,” Collins said. “I’m really going to miss Mark.”

FLAMES SIGN TWO: During the late signing period, UIC signed 6-foot-7 forward Brad Birton and 6-foot-6 guard Anthony Kelley.

Birton comes to the Flames from South Suburban College after averaging 11.9 points and 8.0 rebounds in 21 contests as a sophomore. He played his high school ball at North Lawndale and led the Phoenix to the IHSA Class A championship game in 2007, where they lost to Robo Kreps and Maroa-Forsyth.

Birton can play both forward positions and gives UIC instant depth in the frontcourt.

“Brad is a tough, versatile athlete who plays hard and plays a number of different positions,” Collins said in a news release. “He is a high-energy guy, a winner and a very coachable young man. We expect Brad to come in and play right away.”

Kelley averaged just over 20 points per game as senior at Aurora Central Catholic. He led the Chargers to a 23-4 record last season.

Kelley can play both the shooting guard and small forward spots and gives the Flames some valuable size in the backcourt, and with that, the ability to shoot over defenders.

“Anthony is very athletic, he can shoot the ball, he can really jump and he is a long defender,” Collins said. “He has a ton of great upside, and his willingness to work will turn that potential into success very quickly.”

The duo will join 6-foot-9 center Louis Green as part of the Flames’ incoming class for 2009-10.

Forward Byron Pickens, from Senn High School and Mineral Area (Mo.), will not be coming after all. Pickens had committed during the season, but changed his mind and signed with Tennessee Tech.

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Coach Jimmy Collins congratulates Jimmy Harding on his “Spirit Award” as Jeremy Buttell looks on.

TEAM AWARDS: Also at the April 21 banquet, the coaching staff handed out several awards, including the MVP to senior guard Josh Mayo, who was also First Team All-Horizon League.

A full list of award winners are as follows:

Ebenezer Noonoo Spirit Award: sophomore guard Jimmy Harding

Purple Heart Award: Junior forward Jovan Ignjatovic

Assists Award: Junior guard Spencer Stewart

Rebounding Award: Senior center Scott VanderMeer

Newcomer of the Year Award: Junior forward Rob Eppinger

Shooting Percentage Award: Sophomore guard Robo Kreps

MVP: Senior guard Josh Mayo

LOWE TO HALL OF FAME: Current UIC assistant coach and former Flames standout Bryant Lowe was inducted into the Illinois Basketball Coaches Association Hall of Fame on April 25.

Lowe was a two-year letterwinner at UIC and guided the Flames to their first NCAA tournament bid in 1998. He was a team captain on the 1997-98 squad that won 22 games, averaging 15.1 points and 8.7 rebounds per game.

Other UIC notables who have earned induction include current assistant coach and former point guard Tracy Dildy (Class of 1998), coach Bob Hallberg (Class of 1992), former point guard and current UIC radio analyst Kenny Williams (Class of 1996), former guard Tony Freeman (Class of 2001), coach Tom Meyer (Class of 2000) and women’s basketball star Joanne McCarthy (Class of 2004).

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FLAMES FLICKERS: Former Flame Othyus Jeffers was the NBA D-League Rookie of the Year, playing for the Iowa Energy. He averaged just over 20 points and nine rebounds per game. He will play in the NBA’s summer league in Las Vegas (July 10-19) as a member of the D-League Select Team. … Assistant coach Tracy Dildy was named one of CollegeInsider.com’s top 25 mid-major assistants. … Former UIC sports information director and assistant athletic director Mike Cassidy is the new athletic director at Roosevelt University, which is starting an athletic program. … Forward Jelani Poston, who was suspended indefinitely towards the end of the season, was absent from the team banquet on April 21 and was not mentioned when the players came up for their participation awards.

In other recent news:
HORIZON TOURNEY: Flames cooked under pressure (vs. Cleveland St.) (3/9/09)
HORIZON TOURNEY: Flames find a little 'Epp' in their step (at YSU) (3/4/09)
HORIZON AWARDS: Mayo, VanderMeer honored (3/2/09)
Eppinger, VanderMeer led balanced attack (at Loyola) (3/2/09)