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COLLEGE BASKETBALL / 2001-02 PREVIEW | UC IRVINE PREVIEW

Green's Encore Might Be Big News

November 15, 2001|MIKE BRESNAHAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The words and pictures that came from the television set were first deflating, then elating for the UC Irvine basketball team.

The news in March was hardly the throwing-popcorn-in-the-air type. The NCAA selection committee bypassed the Anteaters' first Big West Conference championship and their school-record 25-4 mark, leaving them with an anticlimactic date in the National Invitation Tournament.

But the news in June struck a more promising note. Big West player of the year Jerry Green, who had not been selected in the NBA draft, could return for his senior season because he never hired an agent.

Another run at a Big West title became possible overnight and the 6-foot-3 Green, who averaged 19.2 points, would lead the way.

"After I came back from all the [NBA] camps, I was kind of down a little bit," Green said. "I wish things would have gone my way. But I think I'm a little bit more wise. I think my chances are a little better [next year]."

This season would have been solid without Green--certainly better than the woeful 1-25 effort in 1996-97, the season before Coach Pat Douglass arrived--but the return of his all-around game adds a different dimension.

Douglass, whose off-season had already been sweetened with a contract extension through 2007-08, gladly welcomed back Green. "You can't be sitting there not rooting for the kid to get drafted, and at the same time you're hopeful that he won't get drafted," Douglass said.. "I know he's benefited from the whole experience. He's more physical. He's added weight over the summer while lifting. His game has changed."

So have some of his teammates.

The Anteaters lost starters Ben Jones (11.6 points per game) and Sean Jackson (9.3 points) from last season, placing more of a premium on the development of sophomore Adam Parada, a Big West all-freshman selection last season. Parada, a 7footer who averaged 7.6 points, was fourth in the conference with 6.2 rebounds and second with 1.37 blocked shots per game.

"He really looks graceful for a big man," Douglass said. "He runs, catches, cuts like someone smaller. If he were to develop as he goes on in his career, he could possibly be a [forward] in the NBA because he can shoot the three and he runs the court and has good hands. His upside is great."

Three players who redshirted last season--juniors Jordan Harris and Mike Hood, and 6-7 sophomore Matt Okoro--will also be counted on. Harris, a 6-5 transfer from Colgate was called "one of the top 10 players in the conference" by Douglass.

"It kind of puts a lot of pressure on a kid who hasn't played a game at our school [but] he can go inside and out, has great jumping ability and has a wide behind, which is hard to get around," Douglass said of Harris. "He's a very effective player."

Hood, a 6-4 guard sidelined by tendinitis in his knees last season, has good shooting range and complements Green in the backcourt. Okoro can play either forward position and is expected to be one of Irvine's top rebounders.

Should the Anteaters need motivation, they can always reflect on their game against Pacific in the Big West tournament semifinals last season. Despite its gaudy record, Irvine felt it had to win the tournament to be assured of its first NCAA berth because the Big West has not been awarded an at-large bid since 1993. Irvine was stunned by the Tigers, 74-58.

"Just one of those games that nothing would go right," said Green, who was one for eight in the first half and finished with 12 points. "It crosses my mind now and then. It makes me hungrier this year. I can't wait to be in that position again."

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