With seniors KC Robbins, Brad Birton, Robo Kreps and Paul Carter moving on, junior native Chicagoan Zavion Neely seemed the clear choice to inherit Robo Kreps' throne as the emotional leader of head coach Howard Moore's Flames. That was before a mid-season academic mis-step lead to academic ineligibility and Neely missing UIC's final 14 games of last season.
Now it seems Neely -- the only third year player on the team -- won't be returning to UIC next season. No. 23 is already missing from the official UIC roster and the outspoken guard has made his troubles known on twitter.
The image of the hometown hero playing for the coach he loved -- Jimmy
Collins -- Neely's leadership and experience on the floor will be missed
more than his assists.
Brian Hedger profiled Neely for the Tribune late in the guard's sophomore season, and he had this to say.
"I know a lot of guys leave town, but I wanted to stay and represent
this city," Neely said. "Hopefully we can make some ( NCAA) Tournament
appearances and finish high in the league before I leave. I'm just happy
that I'll be here every step of the way."
The eldest remnant of Collins-era UIC, Neely won't see those hopes realized. With that hometown icon gone, who will Howard Moore turn to for leadership with such a large class of incoming freshman?
Cross guard Shawn King off the list. After apparently playing to keep his scholarship with seven mysterious minutes on the floor in UIC's first round Horizon League playoff loss in which King logged two turnovers and nothing else, the guard is headed elsewhere. According to his Facebook page, he'll be playing at D-II Mesa State in Colorado.
Red-shirt senior Dipanjot Singh, a surprise standout after two years on the UIC bench, and JUCO transfers Paris Carter and Darrin Williams are the likely leaders for the captain spot that would have gone to Neely. But none of these three have played more than a year of D-I basketball as a starter -- of course, neither has Howard Moore.
Sophomore Corey Gray developed into a solid point guard late last season and could also find himself a leader in the coming season.
Four of Moore's six incoming recruits, including newly inked Rob Robinson, are native Chicagoans who can pick up where Neely left off. Based on what we've seen from Moore-coached teams so far, these freshman stand a good chance of logging a lot of minutes for UIC.