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UC IRVINE NOTEBOOK / JOHN WEYLER : Preview of Men's Basketball Reveals Some Promise, Some Pitfalls

November 01, 1994|JOHN WEYLER

The new and apparently improved men's basketball team made its public debut Sunday afternoon in the Bren Center. Maybe a couple of hundred fans showed up for the shooting contests, free popcorn and annual blue-gold scrimmage, but those who did got a first look at the new Anteaters, a team that probably will have three newcomers in its starting lineup for the season opener.

Three 10-minute, teammate-vs.-teammate scrimmages aren't going to be all that revealing, but here's a look at how the top four new guys fared Sunday:

* The Rookie of the Scrimmage Award goes to . . . Brian Keefe. "How's that for a last-minute, fill-out-the-roster guy?" asked beaming Irvine assistant Maz Trakh after Keefe put on a bit of a show. The skinny 6-4 freshman from Winchester, Mass., drilled a few three-pointers and even more impressively drove strong to the hoop for a couple of twisting layups.

"Let's not judge a freshman on his first intrasquad scrimmage and make him the next Chris Brown," Coach Rod Baker said, in reference to Irvine's senior guard who led the nation in three-point shooting last season. "Let's see if he can string a few together before we make him into Byron Scott."

Keefe, who plays behind Brown, is the new face you won't see in that starting lineup.

* The Least Impressive On-Court Debut Award was "won" by Raimonds Miglinieks, the Latvian point guard who averaged more than 11 assists at Riverside College. He made one spectacular, no-look, over-the-back-of-the-head pass, but he didn't wow anybody otherwise.

"He can play better than he did tonight," Baker said, "but still he's getting the ball to the right people. And he's still getting used to some things we're asking him to do."

* The Least Impressive Debut Award goes to Kevin Simmons, the 6-8 freshman center from Brooklyn who sooner or later figures to be the best of the bunch. He's got a nice outside shooting touch for a big man and good inside moves for a freshman.

Unfortunately, the Anteater faithful who showed up to see him only got a look at him in street clothes. Junior transfer Michael Tate elbowed Simmons in the mouth during practice Saturday, and Simmons' loose front teeth had to be wired together and attached to his gums.

"We have to take him in this week to get an X-ray and see if his nose is broken," Baker said. "Then we'll know how long he's going to be out."

* The Could Easily Pass for a Heavyweight Award is in the firm grip of Tate, who is not afraid to battle anyone for a rebound or loose ball. He's also not afraid to grab a teammate by the arm, pull him close and make an animated and angry appeal into his ear.

"Michael plays at a certain level, all the time," Baker said, smiling. "And that is good."

*

But he plays taller: OK, Tate is no shrinking violet on a basketball court. Just ask Simmons' dentist. But he keeps getting shorter on paper.

When the Anteaters announced that Tate had signed a letter of intent to attend Irvine, he was a "6-6, 210-pound forward." By the time the 1994-95 basketball prospectus was printed, he was listed at 6-5, 200 pounds. And Sunday afternoon's roster listed him at 6-4 and 225.

The latter is probably closest to the truth. And a large portion of that 225 pounds is biceps.

*

Ratings game: The Sporting News ranks the Anteaters 176th in the nation, behind Big West peers New Mexico State (47), UNLV (78), Utah State (131), Long Beach State (136) and UC Santa Barbara (160).

Dick Vitale has it figured this way: New Mexico State (52); Utah State (59); UNLV (61); Long Beach State (111); UC Santa Barbara (149) and Irvine (151).

"Street & Smith's" predicts the Anteaters will finish seventh in the Big West and "Athlon" picks Irvine to end up sixth.

Baker has higher aspirations. The Anteaters ended up face down in the Big West cellar with a 4-14 regular-season record last season, but no one was holding their heads higher after they swept through the postseason tournament before losing the final to New Mexico State.

"Our wing players have had great practices, but we've had trouble staying healthy with the inside guys," Baker said. "I'd like to see it all together at the same time to determine how good we are, but I feel good about this team. I feel real good."

*

On a roll? The women's basketball team, which also made its debut Sunday afternoon, won three of its last seven games and also had a semi-positive experience in the Big West tournament, losing to top-seeded Hawaii, 85-82.

"Our mission," said Coach Colleen Matsuhara, "is to build from the way we played in that game, when we were seconds away from upsetting the best team in the conference."

The Anteaters have two freshmen recruits--Leticia Oseguera from Mater Dei High and Sabrina Roberson from Corpus Christi, Tex.--but neither figures to have the kind of immediate impact expected of the new players on the men's team.

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