BIRMINGHAM – It’s not breaking news to say that times are not good right now for the UAB men’s basketball team.
The Blazers, who were the preseason favorites in Conference USA, have dropped four of the past five conference games with the losses coming by a combined eight points. Jordan ‘Jelly’ Walker, the nation’s second leading scorer, is still listed as day to day, which means there is no guarantee he will play in an important Conference USA game on Saturday at 3 p.m. against North Texas at Bartow Arena.
Sleep doesn’t come easily for UAB coach Andy Kennedy these days.
“In my business, there’s only two states of being – winning, which is basically relief, it’s not really happiness or joy, just relief and then pure misery,” Kennedy said. “Lately, I’ve in the misery lane, unfortunately. But, I think it’s all part of a purpose, I really do. I think we’re in pruning season, the seeds have been planted. It’s not time to harvest yet, but we’re pruning. That’s kind of where this team is. Pruning is not easy and pruning is not necessarily enjoyable. But it is certainly necessary.”
Part of the reason for pruning, at least with this particular team, is the manner which is was put together. Kennedy and his staff brought in five players from the transfer portal during this past offseason.
“I’m learning that when you bring in as many guys as we have in the portal, there are a lot of guys that really have never experienced winning at a high level,” Kennedy said. “That’s part of the reason they came here, they wanted to experience that. With that comes growing pains.”
Will those growing pains make Kennedy change his approach to recruiting?
“It will make me reassess, moving forward, the positions that we take,” said Kennedy.
For now, though, his concern is getting the Blazers on the right path. There is still a lot of season to play and he pointed toward last season as an important comparison for his team.
“Last year, we had some disappointing losses,” Kennedy said. “They may not have come as concurrent as these. Finally, we hit our stride, we were playing our best basketball when our best basketball was needed and we made a run. This team still definitely has got a run in it. I don’t think we’ve come close (to where we can be), even when we were winning.”
Saturday would be a good time to start. North Texas, the C-USA regular season champions the past two seasons, plays a style that makes it uncomfortable on opposing. The Mean Green play suffocating defense and employ a deliberate clock-draining offensive system.
“I don’t know about you, you guys have good teeth, I don’t really look forward to going to the dentist,” Kennedy said “We have to go to the dentist and I got a really good one. Saturday is going to be like going to the dentist. It’s going to be a rock fight. They play a certain style. There’s 363 Division I basketball teams. They are 363rd, for the third consecutive year, in pace of play. We’re around fifth. Obviously, something has got to give.”
When they do decide to shoot, Tylor Perry is a dynamic shotmaker, averaging 17.7 points with 59 3-pointers. Kai Huntsberry averages 11.2 points and is a solid outside threat with 25 3-pointers. The Mean Green have an inside presence in 6-foot-10, 230-pound junior Abou Ousmane, who had 37 points and 11 rebounds earlier this season in a conference win over UTSA. Ousmane was 15 of 19 from the field and 7 of 9 from the free throw line in that game.
UAB will face that lineup with a team that Kennedy knows has the pieces to turn the tough times around.
“I have learned that I think we have a talented group of individuals,” Kennedy said. “My charge is to become a talented team. We’re certainly a work in progress.”
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