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Collins turns to Robbins in the post

FLAMES SEEK REPLACEMENT FOR VANDERMEER

October 6, 2009

Steve Woltmann/uicflames.com

K.C. Robbins

When a mid-major program loses a seven-foot center, who not only holds the school’s all-time record, but also the conference record for blocked shots, a suitable replacement isn’t easy to come by.

However, UIC coach Jimmy Collins received a summer coup when 6-foot-11, 270-pound Kyle “K.C.” Robbins decided to join the Flames to help the team offset the loss of three-time Horizon League defensive team member Scott VanderMeer, who ranked in the top 40 nationally in rebounding and the top 20 in blocked shots last season.

Robbins, originally from Falmouth, Maine played in 11 games for Vermont of the America East conference before transferring to Southwestern Illinois College last year.

Collins credits assistant coach Bryant Lowe’s contacts in the Great Rivers Athletic Conference, the same junior college conference where Lowe played before he came to UIC as a player in 1997.

“Kyle has a big body; He has great hands and moves well in the post area,” Collins said a few weeks ago. “He hasn’t been a guy who was leaned on offensively. We really need him to think about his offense and that’s what he needs to be about.”

Collins is optimistic that Robbins will step in and eventually own most of the minutes in the post for the Flames.

“I’m certainly hoping that Big Kyle can come in there and give us some presence in the post,” Collins said. “We had another Kyle a few years back that nobody thought was going to do a lot for us and of course, he was main why reason why we ended up playing in the NCAA tournament.

Collins is referring to “the Sheriff” Kyle Kickert, who was an imposing force for the Flames’ 2002 NCAA tournament and 2003 NIT teams.

Though Collins says there will be plenty of competition for the starting spots and top reserves, smart money may be on a starting lineup of Robbins in the middle, returning sophomore Jelani Poston at power forward, senior Jeremy Buttell at small forward, junior Robo Kreps at shooting guard and senior Spencer Stewart at the point.

One obstacle to that is the recent indefinite suspension of Stewart for violating team rules. Depending on the length of the suspension, the Flames could be looking for someone to start at the point early in the season with the likely candidate being sophomore Zavion Neely, who saw very limited minutes last season.

A pleasant surprise has been the return of Poston, who was suspended midway through the conference schedule last season.

“Jelani has been working extremely hard, and he’s been in the gym every day," Collins said. “He’s been working on his academics. We’re hoping to get him back in full swing, because there’s no question Jelani can help us because he is a world-class athlete. Just getting to know him, he’s really, really a good person.”

Some of the newcomers will vie for quality minutes, including 6-foot-7 junior forward Brad Birton and freshmen Anthony Kelley and Louis Green.

Birton, who will also have a shot at cracking the starting lineup, is an energy player who Collins expects to do the underappreciated things like rebound and play defense.

Kelley, at 6-foot-6, gives the Flames a versatile guard/wing player, who can shoot over defenses.

Green will likely be the backup at the center as he adjusts to Division I ball. The majority of his offense at St. Joseph High School, came off missed shots from other players, but Collins eventually expects him to become a decent offensive factor.

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Tori Boyd left the Flames after two seasons to pursue personal academic goals.

GOOD-BYE: There were some surprising departures from the team this summer when forwards Tori Boyd, Rob Eppinger, Jovan Ignjatovic and DeMarkus Isom-Jones elected to leave.

Boyd, Eppinger and Isom-Jones left for personal reasons. UIC sources said the Boyd is still at UIC pursuing his degree. The most shocking departure was that of Boyd, who Collins said had “high potential.”

“I am surprised,” Collins said. “[Tori] made a decision that he did not want play to basketball and he wanted to pursue his career goals. It didn’t appear that he had anything personal against our staff, he just didn’t want to play basketball anymore.”

Boyd played two years for the Flames, averaging 6.9 points per game. The 6-foor-5 small forward started 20 of 31 games as a sophomore. Boyd scored a career-high 23 points in a loss at Milwaukee on Jan. 31, 2009.

Two known concussions suffered during his two years at UIC could have been a trigger point. He took an errant elbow in practice as a freshman during a stay in the Virgin Islands. He suffered another blow during the Flames’ loss to Cleveland State in the Horizon League tournament as a sophomore—his final game for UIC.

“The concussions could have been part of the reason, but we didn’t talk about that,” Collins said. “He had such high potential as a basketball player. His mind was made up and I wish him much success.

Eppinger had a strong stretch run last season, peaking with a 20-point, 14-rebound effort at Youngstown State in the opening round of the Horizon League tournament. The 6-foot-8 power forward averaged 15.7 points and 9.3 rebounds in UIC’s final three games. He averaged 5.4 points in 29 games.

Ignjatovic, who was slated to be a fifth-year senior, is scheduled to graduate at the end of the fall semester and will pursue his career.

Isom-Jones sat out as a redshirt during his freshman year.

UIC HALL OF FAMER JOINS COACHING STAFF: Collins named former Flames star Mark Miller as his new assistant coach replacing the void created when Mark Coomes decided to leave the program at the end of last season.

Also, Collins promoted Tracy Dildy to Coomes’ old position of associate head coach.

With the addition of Miller to the staff, all three assistants (Dildy, Lowe and Miller) are UIC alumni.

SCHEDULE OFFICIAL: There were no major surprises when UIC’s 2009-10 schedule was released earlier this month.

The Flames will open the regular season on Saturday, Nov. 14 against downstate sister school UIS (Illinois-Springfield) at the UIC Pavilion.

Other key non-conference games include a home game with Illinois State (Nov. 23), a road game against DePaul at Allstate Arena (Dec. 13), a home tilt with Oregon State (Dec. 16), a road contest against NCAA participant Akron (Dec. 22) and a road battle against Wisconsin (Dec. 27). Big Ten Network will broadcast the UIC-Wisconsin contest.

“We have a very, very challenging schedule,” Collins said. “Playing a schedule like this can only help us to get better to get ready to play in the conference.”

Horizon League play opens up with road games at Milwaukee (Dec. 3) and Green Bay (Dec. 5). The conference home opener comes in a New Year’s Eve matinee against Detroit.

UIC will host Loyola on Friday, Jan. 15 in the ESPNU Horizon League Game of the Week. The Flames travel to the Gentile Center for the rematch on Feb. 13.

In addition, UIC will host Horizon League NCAA tournament participants Butler (on Jan. 23) and Cleveland State (on Feb. 4).

Other TV games and radio arrangements will be announced in the coming weeks.

COMMITMENT: UIC received an oral commitment from Class of 2010 forward Eddie Denard of Foreman High School. Illinois Prep Bulls-eye recently reported on its Web site that Denard, a 6-foot-5 small forward, chose the Flames over Texas State and Central Michigan.

Denard joins guard Kenny Stevenson from Seton as commits for next year’s class.

In other recent news:
SUMMER UPDATE: Marquee names on non-conference schedule (7/8/09)
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)