Basketball season is right around the corner for UT Arlington. The men’s basketball team was picked first in the Sun Belt conference after finishing last season with a 24-11 record, which included road wins over Ohio State and Memphis. The season ended early after a second-round loss at the College Insiders Tournament. This season the goal is the NCAA Tournament.
“Our guys have worked extremely hard all summer long,” said head coach Scott Cross. “We know just like last year that preseason rankings mean absolutely nothing. We have to win a championship every day. That has to be our mentality if we want to win one in March.”
The Mavericks return all five starters, including guard Erick Neal and forward Kevin Hervey. Both were named preseason first-team all-Sun Belt. Hervey got off to a fast start last season averaging 18.1 points and 9.8 rebounds per game before suffering a season-ending knee injury during pregame warmups in January.
“It was tough,” said Hervey. “I’m back now and that’s all that matters. I’ve always felt I’ve had something to prove. Every time I’ve stepped on the floor I want to win.”
The first month of the season will be a challenge for UT Arlington as they open with five of their first eight games on the road, which includes trips to face Minnesota, Arkansas and Texas this month.
“Our non-conference schedule is brutal,” said Cross. “It’s going to test us as good as any non-conference schedule that we’ve had up to this point. I think we do have a veteran basketball team that is definitely a little bit toughened up and battle tested. I think they are ready for the challenge ahead.”
“I feel like with the team that we have here we can play with anybody, Big 12, Big 10, all of them,” added Neal. “Every time we step on the court with one of those big teams, I feel like I want to get this win.”
The season begins November 12 against Texas Southern as part of the UTA Homecoming Week Festivities.
On the women’s side, The Lady Mavericks added seven new players to a team that finished 15-16 last season. The new group includes three freshman and four transfers. They are picked to finish third in the preseason poll.
“With just the athleticism we’ve put together here, I think we will be a really exciting team to watch play,” said head coach Krista Gerlich. “I think the overall work ethic, how hard our kids play, has been really exceptional. We are going to be a lot faster, a lot more athletic and deeper in the guard position particularly, and be able to play at a faster pace for an extended period of time.”
One of those guards, LD Bell product Cierra Johnson, started 24 of the 25 games she played in last season, averaging 10.2 points per game and led the conference with 2.9 steals per game. Johnson was named to the Preseason Second-Team.
“I think very highly of this team,” said Johnson. “I just feel like we are going to be a team that is going to go-go-go and we will win more games than we did last year. I’m excited about that.”
Both Johnson and center Rebekah VanDijk are the only returning starters back this season. VanDijk was a FullCourt.com Freshman All-American in 2014-15 and one of two players to average a double-double during her freshman campaign. She led the Lady Mavericks with 12.1 points and 8.9 rebounds per game last season. The junior was named the Sun Belt Preseason Player of the Year for the 2016-17 season, as well as on the Preseason First-Team.
“I’m just looking forward to having fun with the girls and playing our hardest,” said VanDijk. “I think if we give it our best every time, we’ll have a successful season.”
The Lady Mavericks will open the season on November 13 against UT San Antonio during Homecoming Week. Conference play begins on December 29 against Appalachian State.
“I think it’s going to be challenging no matter what,” added Johnson.
Written by C. James