UT Arlington Men’s Basketball Excited About Season Ahead
By UT Arlington Athletics Department
Posted on November 07, 2015, November 07, 2015

UT Arlington men's basketball held Media Day to preview the upcoming season Wednesday at College Park Center. The press conference was headed by UTA coach Scott Cross, junior guard Drew Charles and sophomore forward Kevin Hervey.

The Mavericks enter the 2015-16 slate with six newcomers and nine returners, three of which started at least half of the games last season. UTA finished fifth in the Sun Belt after splitting 20 games and with a 16-15 mark overall.

Cross has put together the most challenging non-conference schedule of his tenure highlighted by games against Ohio State, Texas, Memphis, UTEP and Louisiana Tech. The Mavs open the season with the Homecoming Game presented by Ben Hogan Sports Medicine against Fordham Nov. 14 at College Park Center.

Opening statement:
Cross: "We're obviously very excited about the season being here. These guys have worked extremely hard. We started back in the summer as we were preparing to go on our foreign tour to The Bahamas. It was very productive for us. This team really passes the basketball well. We've got great team chemistry so far. They're very skilled and they can shoot the basketball. We're still working on defensive rotations, getting the guys all on the same page and also that Maverick level of toughness that our teams have had. We're trying to instill that in the guys. So far I've been very pleased with the way things have gone. We did have a scrimmage and saw some positives there. We definitely have to do a better job of taking care of the basketball."

Drew Charles' return from injury last season:
Cross: "He's if not our toughest guy, then one of our toughest. He's the guy that does all the little things. Whatever we're preaching, he's going to do it. He's going to be the vocal one defensively. He may commit a couple of unnecessary fouls because he's playing so hard, but I like that. The rest of the guys do feed off of him and last year when he did get injured, our toughness as a team dropped a little bit. We're excited about having him back full speed again."

Charles: "It's the best time of the year other than Christmas. We're all ready and it's going to be a packed house here when we play Fordham, so I'm beyond words. It's going to be ecstatic and we're all ready to go."

Sophomore class stepping up as leaders:
Cross: "It's hard as a freshman to play extensive minutes. Those four freshmen did do a great job. Kevin Hervey and [Erick Neal] obviously got a lot of starts for us. You are going to be really impressed when you see Hervey play. His rate of improvement has been tremendous. He's one of the most talented guys I've ever coached and we still every day butt heads over toughness, defending the way I want to. The light bulbs went off for him offensively and he's one of the best I've ever seen with the ball in his hands. He passes it extremely well, shoots it extremely well. He thinks the game and has a nose for offensive rebounds. He just understands how to play and he's highly intelligent, so he's been working at it defensively. I've been trying my best to get him to be more comfortable being more uncomfortable. That's where he has to progress. Once he does that, the sky is the limit for him."

Hervey's goals and preseason focus:
Hervey: "I want to be a great player and the things [Cross] focuses on the most are defense and that's what I need to get better at. At times, I know how good I can be, but defensive is what I need to focus on. I've been working with someone who has been helping me on my ball handling, seeing the floor better and shooting, so I'm more comfortable. The game has slowed down a lot for me compared to last year. If I can be great defensively, the sky is the limit for me and our team."

Becoming a more 3-point shooting team:
Cross: "[Jamel Outler] was a great 3-point shooter that struggled a bit last year, but then you had guys that weren't great 3-point shooters; [Lonnie McLanahan] was a driver, Johnny was a driver. This year, one through four, every single one of our guys can shoot, so there's nobody you can just let shoot. All of our guys are respectable. Drew's 3-point shooting was one of the tops in the conference. If he can just shoot 40 percent this year, that would be tremendous. I don't want to put any pressure on him, but he's improved. He's been getting up at 6-6:30 every morning, getting an hour in and his 3-point shooting as improved a ton. Hervey's has improved,Kaelon Wilson and Erick have gotten better. We brought in Jalen Jones, a transfer from McLennan Community College, and he can flat shoot the basketball. Nathan Hawkins is a transfer from Nebraska who can shoot the basketball. That's definitely going to be a big part of what we do is shooting the 3. I'm sure there will be some games where we don't hit the 3, but that's where the game is going. Golden State, they're spreading the floor. In San Antonio, that's the way it's played, so I think we will shoot a lot of 3's, but at the same time we emphasize with our guys we want the ball in the paint. Our weapons on the perimeter are definitely improved from last year."

Having a taller and longer team:
Cross: "If you think about good defensive teams, a lot of times, they're just that length. You go to Kentucky, do they play harder than us? No, but they're all 7-feet tall and it's hard to get shots off. That's the way the game is. If you can find a guy Hervey's size that can shoot it, pass it, dribble it, over a guy that's 5-10, that matchup is going to win because of his length and height. Length is probably more important and it definitely helps defensively. It has been a point of emphasis as we're recruiting. If we can find guys that are longer and taller, we definitely want to go that direction."

Competitiveness of the Sun Belt:
Charles: "As you saw last year with Georgia State, they beat a Big 12 in the NCAA Tournament in Baylor. Baylor was pretty good. I see the Sun Belt climbing up in the competition. We had Elfrid Payton go a few years ago and R.J. Hunter go last year. I think we'll have another go in Shawn Long, so with the Sun Belt producing NBA players, the competition is getting steeper."

Cross: "There are no easy games from top to bottom. Troy has a guy that may get some NBA looks, Wesley Person Jr., his dad played in the NBA and he's super talented. There are no easy games. In the Southland, there were always two or three easy games that you could look at and say if we played okay, we're going to win. You look at the Sun Belt and there's one or two every year that are mid-majors that could probably play in a high-major conference and you have eight or nine other teams that are legit mid-major basketball programs. Like Drew said, Georgia State beats Baylor in the NCAA Tournament, then they had Xavier beat, who went to the Sweet 16 and lost. Louisiana-Lafayette won the CIT, so they beat all the mid-major teams who had successful season. Monroe was in the College Insiders and made it all the way to the championship game. Team one, three and four in the Sun Belt were extremely successful in postseason play. We're not too far off."

Toughness of the 2015-16 schedule:
Cross: "You never know how the season's going to take shape. What these guys do know is we play one of the hardest schedules in the country. We bring revenue to the department that sometimes gets ignored. We're playing the Kentucky's of the world, the Kansas' of the World. We're playing Ohio State this year. We're playing Memphis. We're playing Texas. We're playing top 20, 30 programs in the country so that factors in when you look at the records. You take three or four of those games off and you put in three or four games that you're the favorite in and all of a sudden your 15-14 record is 19-11 record and it looks pretty good on paper. So it depends on how you want to view it. In the Sun Belt yes, it would be nice to have a better winning percentage in the Sun Belt but you look at before Johnny and Drew went down, we were well above .500 and I think we're well on our way to being in contention for a Sun Belt Championship. You have to focus on what you can control and what we can control is are we going get better today? That's where our focus has to be from day to day."

Nathan Hawkins' contribution on the court:
Charles: "He's going to help us tremendously. He can shoot the ball, take it to the basket, he's 6-5. Somebody with an IQ like that, you want to cut down on turnovers. He can hit the open shot and create his own shot. He can drive. When you add somebody like that to the floor, you don't lose anybody. People think starting lineups, but we're just rotating in and out and you don't lose anything."

Playing a foreign tournament in the Bahamas:
Hervey: "It was obviously fun. Beautiful place, the weather was amazing. Atlantis was beautiful, but it brought us closer as a team. The teams we played down there weren't the best guys, but it didn't matter because we learned some things. We messed up and we learned from our mistakes. We found out how good of a shooting team we can be. When we were down there we swung the ball well, we shot a bunch of open jump shots and just about everybody on our team can shoot so we found out how good we can be offensively. Defensively we played well but that was just because they weren't that good offensively. But overall it was just a good experience."

Charles: "We found our strengths and weaknesses and I think we also found out that everyone can be happy scoring the ball. I mean if you move the ball around everyone's going to get shots and be satisfied with their scoring. Another thing that I liked was the kid's camp. Those kids don't really know American basketball and just going down there and showing them how to have fun, you cherish those moments. When I'm 50 years old, I'm going to tell my kids I went to the Bahamas to play."

NCAA rule changes for this season:
Cross: "I think there are some good changes. They moved the arc out for the charge another foot, were going have to adjust on the run. We don't have the arc in the practice facility, so we've taped one down. But we don't know exactly how they are going to call it. They say they are going to call the hand check extremely tight. We do harp on our guys and try to call fouls in practice but when the games get here, they may call it a lot closer than what we call it, so the biggest thing is these guys have to be able to adjust. If their calling it close than we have to make sure we don't have any unnecessary contact. If they're letting it be little more physical, then we need to be more physical because otherwise the other teams are going to have an advantage. We've been coaching them to play be tough, play hard, play physical but at the same time we're trying not to commit any unnecessary fouls. We wont know until we get some actual Sun Belt officials in here and see how they are going to call the game. I would expect it be a lot tighter this year."

Single game, season tickets or All Sport Passes are available at UTATickets.com or by contacting the College Park Center Box Office at (817) 272-9595.

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