By Taryn Taylor
The men’s basketball team held its first scrimmage game last Saturday against Eastern Florida State College to kick off the season. Though the team struggled, they hope to regain momentum in their final scrimmage game on Oct. 30 against Southern Connecticut State in New Haven, Connecticut.
Sophomore forward Duke Shelton cites inexperience as one of the primary reasons for their early struggles.
“Unfortunately the scrimmage did not go as smooth as we would have liked,” Shelton said. “We’re a fairly new team and have some chemistry building to do, overall everyone played hard and that is what we need, the rest will fall into place.”
A major springboard for the team is a highly-anticipated matchup against Division I basketball powerhouse UConn on Nov. 1. The Huskies edged a dominant University of Kentucky team to win their fourth national championship in 2014 and have produced a myriad of NBA players like Ray Allen and Kemba Walker. UT is hoping the Huskies aren’t going to take out their 2014-15 struggles on them, after they bowed out to Arizona State in the first round of the NIT last year.
“We are all excited not only to travel to UConn, but to actually play a DI team is a great opportunity for us,” freshman guard/forward Anthony Gamble said. “[It will be the] toughest game of the season. They are a national championship team and we will have to play [at] a high level to come out of there with a win.”
UT begins regular season play on Nov. 13 against University of Alabama- Huntsville in the Saint Leo Tournament hosted by Saint Leo University.
“It’s important to start off strong, so it won’t hurt us later towards the end of the season in the rankings,” Gamble said. “Overall, it’s tough to start a season on a three game road trip and not being at home but we are a tough team this year and we will leave it all out on the court.”
UT brought in four freshman and two transfers this season and are hoping they will fill voids left by graduated veterans Jordan Davis and Eugene McCrory. The freshmen are guard Freddy Ibrahim, guard Darien McClain, guard Pat Bacon, and forward Jaylen Taylor. Senior forward Zach Hollis is a transfer from Lamar University where he played in 21 games. He is originally from California and attended Antelope Valley College before transferring to LU as a junior. Junior center Marcelo Ruediger is from Brazil and at 6 feet 10 inches tall he is the tallest player on the team. A transfer from Utah State University Eastern, Ruediger played in 28 games and averaged 6.4 points and 6.5 rebounds per game while there. Shelton thinks the team’s youth will make the start of the season harder than the games later in the year.
“I think [it’s] the toughest game because we’re such a new team and it is our first real game, the [team] chemistry development is extremely vital,” Shelton said.
Tampa is returning Shelton, who started 17 of the 24 games he played in, averaged 6.4 points and 3.1 rebounds, and was in the running for SSC Freshman of the Year.
“I will be taking more of a leadership role [this season],” Shelton said. “To improve from last season, I have been working on all aspects of my game: shooting, ball handling, passing, defense, you name it, and really just being more mentally prepared and focused.”
Gamble will also be returning. Though he didn’t see any playtime last season, he hopes this year will be different.
“There is a very high chance of me playing this year,” Gamble said. “We have a lot of guys on the team who are interchangeable. I have worked on many of things over the summer such as ball handling, shooting and defense. I also have been in the weight room getting stronger and faster for the long season ahead.”
The Spartans play in two more tournaments one in November and the other in December. During the weekend of Nov. 27, the team will participate in the Eckerd Tournament hosted by Eckerd College, where they’ll compete against Claflin University and University of Puerto Rico-Bayamon. Later, UT will be hosting the Tampa Classic during the weekend of Dec. 19. Eckerd, Eastern New Mexico University, and Tiffin University will be participating.
The Spartans will hold their first home game of the season on Nov. 30 against Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University.