By Joe Henricksen
UIC's shocking upset win Saturday over ranked Illinois did not send the Flames to any postseason tournament or suddenly bounce them above the likes of Butler, Cleveland State and Detroit in the Horizon League. But a win of that magnitude certainly opened eyes -- both within the program and those checking it out. And that includes potentially opening more recruiting doors for coach Howard Moore and his staff.
When the UIC job opened last summer, the Hoops Report stated Wisconsin assistant Howard Moore was the ideal hire. The guy made too much sense in every way. Fortunately, UIC did its homework, didn't reach and brought on a coach the Hoops Report, and many others, felt could elevate the UIC basketball program.
Again, the stunner over the Illini isn't necessarily validation of the Moore hire, nor will the victory necessarily be parlayed into even a winning season. Who knows? Maybe it will. Expectations within any college program are higher than those on the outside. Coaches in every college program demand improvement, expect success. And if there was ever a way for Moore to get his players to buy in to what he and his staff have been preaching, this was it. But again, this was a major rebuilding process from the get-go when Moore and his staff took over at UIC.
Nonetheless, UIC has a new lease on its basketball life with the arrival of Moore and his staff. By all accounts, the Flames picked up two very impressive out-of-state recruits this past fall in 6-5 shooting guard Marc Brown out of Dallas and 6-10 Will Simonton of Fishburne Military Academy in Virginia. They will be joined by Chicago area products in shooter Jerome Brown of Morgan Park, point guard Greg Travis of Curie and improving big man Ahman Fells of Simeon. With the late hiring of Moore, which came after the all-important July evaluation period, signing five players in November was all the more impressive.
Now a win over Illinois grabs people's attention, gets basketball fans, coaches and recruits talking. And you better believe Moore and his staff will take full advantage of arguably the biggest win in UIC basketball history -- beating a nationally-ranked Illinois team -- and hopefully instill their belief into the student-athletes they are recruiting. Moore and his staff are heavily active, involved and evaluating dozens of juniors in the Class of 2012, with a nice little opening line of, "Hey, did you catch our win over Illinois?" There wasn't a single prospect in the state of Illinois -- or any around the country the UIC staff has been in on -- that did not see or hear about the upset at the United Center last Saturday. And when that buzzer sounded or the score and highlights were shown on ESPN, there was a collective "Wow" from each and every one of those potential recruits.
With several scholarships available in the Class of 2012, it's imperative UIC cashes in and strongly follows up the foundation building 2011 recruiting class. And a win like this one over Illinois only helps in the process. In a couple of years, UIC will likely have an influx of 10-plus freshmen and sophomores all recruited by Moore and his staff. That's something to get excited about for prospective recruits and the UIC fanbase.
Former coach Jimmy Collins initially raised the level of UIC basketball. People quickly forget the Flames made three NCAA Tournaments under Collins in 1998, 2002 and 2004 and a NIT berth in 2003. The heart of those teams were Illinois prep products, including the school's all-time leading scorer, Westinghouse alum Cedrick Banks. The wheels did spin off in recent years, including a 8-22 record a year ago and a talent pool that had been depleted, but the fact is UIC is a basketball program that can have a large amount of success.
Why can't UIC get back to competing for postseason tournament berths? Why can't UIC capture the city's attention like those Alfredrick Hughes-led Loyola teams in the mid-1980s, which included a 27-win, NCAA Tournament berth in 1984-85? UIC would like a little more staying power than coach Gene Sullivan's Rambler teams in the 1980s, but that's what is attainable at UIC. The UIC basketball program can become a proven mid-major program.
The Hoops Report believed with the right staff in place, UIC could become that program. So do many others. The win over Illinois shouldn't put unwarranted expectations on the basketball program, but it should also signal to recruits what can be done at UIC under this coaching staff.