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(Information in this team report is as of October 1.)
Were it not for two last-second game-winners made by Chicago State in a pair of losses, UMKC would have won the Mid-Continent regular-season title and been the No. 1-seeded team entering the conference tournament.
Instead, second-seeded UMKC drew seventh-seeded Oakland, which proceeded to eke out wins of four points, three points and one point en route to the school's first-ever NCAA Tournament appearance. The irony in all this was that for the first time in four seasons, UMKC left the tournament after the first day—beaten by a team with less overall wins (nine) up to that point than UMKC had in the conference (12).
"It was a little frustrating that it ended so quickly," an understated Rich Zvosec said during the summer. "I had felt good about winning the conference tournament."
Back in November and December, UMKC (which started 0-7) had the misfortune of playing a tough non-conference schedule without being able to show all its cards. Guards Tim Blackwell (10.1 ppg, 2.9 rpg) and Quinton Day (13.1 ppg, 4.8 apg, 3.6 rpg) missed the first four games after transferring from Creighton and USC, respectively.
"We just tried to maintain until our starting backcourt became eligible," Zvosec said.
Once the perimeter pieces were in place, it was full speed ahead—to the tune of a school-record 11 straight wins and a 9-0 conference start. Zvosec credits the school's fan base as part of the turn-around.
"Kansas City really came alive in January and February. We had record crowds," he said. "In years past, when we'd play a Big 12 team like Kansas State or Oklahoma, the crowd was split. But last season, the crowd was behind us. It goes to show that if you win enough, people will come see you."
By season's end, UMKC hadn't just won over the city. It had gotten respect from all around the league.
This was evidence by the fact Zvosec was chosen MCC Coach of the Year (UMKC's first-such award).
"I grew up in Cedar Point (Ohio), and they have one of the biggest roller-coasters in the world," said Zvosec, entering his fifth season. "That's kind of like how my year was. It was a challenging yet very satisfying year."
Having the services of all-conference first-teamers Carlton Aaron (14.6 ppg, 9.7 rpg) and Mike English (15.8 ppg, 6.0 rpg, 1.3 bpg) along with second-teamer Brandon Temple (14.1 ppg, 2.9 rpg, 2.7 apg) for one final year helped make Zvosec's life all the more enjoyable in 2004-05.
"It's hard to talk about what they meant," Zvosec said. "The funny thing is that all three weren't on any all-conference teams [the previous season] and then they all ended up on one."
Not many schools can boast of three 15-points-a-night-type players. But their contributions went well beyond scoring.
"Mike and Carlton really rebounded. And Brandon made big shots," Zvosec said. "Their efforts went to show that when seniors make plays, you win games."
UMKC also had additional attrition from last year's team. Corey Starks (3.6 ppg, 2.7 rpg) was a senior and Jeremiah Hartsock (1.0 ppg, 1.1 rpg) left on a Mormon mission. Mose Howard (3.3 ppg, 1.2 rpg) and Brandon Lipsey (1.9 ppg) wanted more minutes and transferred to Northwest Missouri State and Central Arkansas, respectively.
As for the aforementioned tandem of Blackwell and Day (both Kansas City products), Zvosec isn't mincing words.
"I think it's the best backcourt in the league," he said.
Day, a junior point guard, ranked second in the conference in assists last season.
"Quinton makes plays in a lot of different ways," said Zvosec about the 6-1, 175-pounder. "I think he'll be one of the best point guards in the country before it's all said and done."
All Blackwell did in his inaugural stint at UMKC was earn MCC Newcomer-of-the-Year honors. The 6-4 sophomore was the conference's second-best free-throw shooter at 88 percent and also shot 44 percent from beyond the arc.
Blake Crawford (0.6 ppg, 1.3 rpg), a 6-8, 225-pound junior forward who started 10 games two seasons ago, also returns. Mark Huppe (2.2 ppg), a 6-2, 180-pound senior guard, will provide depth in the backcourt.
In terms of a recruiting class, "it has the potential to be one of the best in the history of the school," Zvosec said. "We've filled some immediate needs with [junior college] guys. And we've got four freshmen with potential."
Dee Ayuba (12.0 ppg, 7.5 rpg) is a 6-6, 210-pound junior forward from Seminole (Okla.) State College.
"Dee is long, athletic, and can really defend and rebound," Zvosec said.
Kyle Spears (7.7 ppg, 9.1 rpg, 2.3 bpg), a 6-9, 245-pound junior center from Johnson County Community College in Overland Park, Kansas, "has the potential to be one of the best rebounders in the Mid-Continent Conference," Zvosec said.
"He is a player who loves to bang inside and defend. He really runs the floor."
Brazalian Kalu Guasco (13.8 ppg, 7.4 rpg) is a 6-8 power senior forward from Western Nebraska Community College.
"Kalu is a banger inside," Zvosec said. "He'll give us much-needed scoring in the low-post. He'll try to fill the load vacated by Mike and Carlton."
Alex Pledger is a 7-1, 235-pound freshman center from Boys High School in Hamilton, New Zealand who could make an impact early.
"Alex has a chance to be one of the best players to come out of here," Zvosec said. "He's mobile, has a nice touch. We've never had that here—a long, big presence in the middle."
Dane Brumagin (25.7 ppg, 13.8 rpg), from Warrenton (Mo.) Christian High School, is a 6-4, 185-pound freshman guard who can create his own shot and has great range.
"I like his toughness," Zvosec said. "He's not afraid of anyone."
Sharpshooter Brent Stephens (1.7 ppg, 1.0 rpg) is a 6-6, 205-pound sophomore forward who transferred from Monmouth.
"He's tough and hard-nosed," Zvosec said. "We lost that with English [being gone]."
David Nurse (18.3 ppg) is a 6-2, 190-pound freshman guard from Kearney (Mo.) High School.
"He is a combo guard who has great range," Zvosec said. "His versatility will enable him to play both point and the shooting guard position."
Jakob Jurczak is a 6-9, 225-pound freshman forward from Krosno, Poland. Brian Gettinger (14.0 ppg, 7.0 rpg), a 6-9, 210-pound red-shirt freshman from Shawnee Mission South (Overland Park, Kansas) High School, is a long-range shooter who added 20 pounds in the off-season.
BLUE RIBBON ANALYSIS
BENCH/DEPTH : B
Zvosec isn't short-changing what the triumvirate of Aaron, English and Temple offered. But he's also realistically banking on a firm foundation returning.
"We lost three pretty good seniors but I feel good about our backcourt coming back," he said. "The fact we have our backcourt in place will make the transition easier."
As solid as the backcourt is, the frontcourt is as uncertain.
"Now the big guys will just have to prove it at this level," Zvosec said.
All sorts of combinations could arise on the interior, with Crawford doing battle with Ayuba, Pledger, Spears and Stephens.
"Practices are going to be interesting," Zvosec said. "The other three spots are wide open."
Style-wise, the up-tempo Kangaroos are going to get out in transition even more.
"We're going to be different offensively -- more fluid," Zvosec said. "Push the ball a bit more. The make-up of this group is that all 13 guys can run the floor. There are lots of interchangeable parts."
UMKC's schedule isn't as difficult as last season, nor does it need to be with so many newcomers having to adjust to Division I play.
"It's not as challenging as last year but we're still playing Big 12 [Missouri] and Big 10 [Penn State] schools," Zvosec said.
In conference games, UMKC isn't going to win 75 percent of the time like it did last year. But a .500 record is definitely doable.
And that should make the Kansas City faithful proud once again, as they root on their hometown stars.
"Quinton and Tim really energized the city," Zvosec said. "And with them coming back for two and three years, they have the chance to capture the city's attention."
For the most comprehensive previews on all 326 Division I teams, order the "Bible" of college basketball, the 25th anniversary edition of Blue Ribbon College Basketball Yearbook, at www.blueribbonyearbook.com or call 1-866-805-BALL (2255).