Entering year three under coach Corliss Williamson, the Bears basketball team is set for a make or break season.
13-45 through two seasons, Williamson is confident this season will show the work that has gone into building up a struggling program, which endured four straight losing seasons before Williamson’s first year in 2010.
“I think you’re going to see a team that has really bought into what we’re trying to accomplish here,” he said. “They’re really going to play with a passion, and you’re really going to know that they really care about what’s going on. They want to improve this program.”
Williamson said the most important improvement they needed to make from the previous two years is better play in the friendly confines of the Farris Center, where the team is just 10-16 under Williamson.
UCA welcomes back eight players from last year’s team that finished 8-21 and 3-13 in Southland Conference play. Leading the returnees are guards, senior Robert Crawford and junior LaQuentin Miles, senior forwards Jordan Harks and Jarvis Garner and senior center Anthony Borden.
Sophomore guards Lenell Brown and Oliver Wells along with junior guard Ryan Williams also bring experience to the Bears’ backcourt.
Miles was recently named a preseason First-Team All-Southland Conference player. Miles led UCA in scoring last season, averaging 14.9 points a game. His 57 steals were number one in the conference.
Williamson said he expects Miles to continue to be a key to the Bears’ success.
“We’ve got a favorite saying, ‘Q is Q,’” Williamson said. “He’s going to get out there, he’s going to play the passing lanes and he’s going to push the ball in transition.”
Williamson said Miles improved his mid-range jump shot over the summer.
“If [Miles] proves he can knock down that mid-range shot, it’s going to open him up and make us a lot better,” he said.
Williamson said Crawford and Garner have showed increased focus and leadership in preseason workouts and practice, and that he thinks both are poised to have a good year. Garner averaged 10.6 points and 6.0 rebounds per game for UCA in 2011, while Crawford averaged 7.8 points in 17.4 minutes per game.
“It took [Crawford and Garner} a year to get acclimated to college basketball after coming from junior college,” he said. “But I think they understand this is their last go-around, and they are going to make the most of it.”
The Bears added size and length with their 2012 recruiting class, as each of the six signees is at least 6’3”. Williamson said the Bears style of play called for more length on the team and he expects the added size to pay dividends this season, especially in conference play.
“It really makes it tough for teams to score on you when you have length,” he said. “Hopefully we can get to that point.”
The Bears signed one transfer and five high school players. Four of the signees were guards. Headlining the guards is 6’3” junior transfer Deshone McClure from Navarro College in Corsicana, Texas.
“He’s going to be our heart and soul this year,” Williamson said. “His effort, his intensity and tenacity on the defensive end of the court is what we’re going to try to establish at the beginning of every game with him out there.”
Williamson said freshman guard David Berete has a chance to play more than the other freshmen on the team. Berete is a Little Rock Hall graduate who led the Warriors to the 7A state title in 2011, earning MVP of the tournament in the process.
The Bears were picked eighth and ninth in preseason Southland Conference Coaches and SID polls. Conference newcomer Oral Roberts was picked number one in both polls.
UCA opens its 2012-13 campaign at 4:30 p.m. Saturday in Tempe, Az. against the Arizona State Sun Devils of the Pac 12 Conference.
Fans first chance to see the Bears at home will be at 7 p.m. Tuesday when the Bears host cross-town rival Hendrix.