Though the Spartans have started 3-0 their coach knows the competition will get tougher once the Sunshine State Conference slate begins.
By DAVID NORRIE
Published November 28, 2004
Though his team is 3-0 for the third time in four seasons, Tampa basketball coach Richard Schmidt gives the same response as usual when asked about his team: "Aw, we're not that good. We have a lot of questions."
With just one losing season in his previous 21 years, the veteran coach's pessimism has become habitual. What's also routine is his track record of success. Under Schmidt, the Spartans have finished first or second in the Sunshine State Conference all but five years.
But there is reason for concern as UT has been outside the top two each of the past two seasons; the Spartans have been fifth and sixth, respectively, in the conference.
Embarking on the season with one of the most inexperienced teams he has had, Schmidt has the opportunity to mold young players into his system. Schmidt, inducted into the university's Athletic Hall of Fame in October, might be labeled "old school" - an X's and O's coach who preaches defense first and believes in discipline.
"At this point I give our kids a lot of credit," said the six-time SSC coach of the year. "We have mostly walk-ons and these guys have hustled their butts off so far. We don't have as much talent as we have had in the past but we have a lot of savvy players."
Two SSC teams, Rollins (No. 2) and Florida Southern (No. 18) are ranked in the D-II Bulletin Top 25 preseason poll. Other SSC foes like Barry and Lynn are also talented.
"In my opinion there could easily be four teams in that poll," Schmidt said. "Unfortunately for us, we're not what we usually are and the league looks like it might turn out to be the best it has ever been top to bottom."
Tampa has just two seniors, guard Larry Wade and forward Leighton Russell; both transferred in last season. Juniors Joe Anders, Josh Shave and Kevin Byrd all came off the bench last season, averaging nine minutes a game combined. UT needs all three to be more productive.
Forward Matt Klimkoski, a walk-on, has proven to be a solid starter at forward. In three games he has averaged double digits in points (12 a game) and rebounds (15). The Long Island native was often injured last season and played just 16 games. He brings needed experience and defense in the post.
Tampa signed only two scholarship players over the summer, forward Christopher Evans of Middleton and Palm Beach Community College transfer Marcus Bright. Bright, second among Florida juco players last year in 3-point field goal percentage (52), starts at shooting guard; Evans has double digit points off the bench in two of Tampa's first three games. Schmidt says he expects big things from both, particularly Evans, whose 6-foot-6 body and long arms helped him average 22 points a game in high school.
Mark Borders, who was among the league's top 10 in scoring (eighth, 14 ppg), assists (second, 6.41 apg) and free throw percentage (eighth, .711), returns. He also led the SSC in steals at 2.24 a game.
Borders, in his second UT season, is an excellent ballhandler who can drive the lane and create shots. After his first off-season under Schmidt he looks to be ready to take his game to another level.
"Mark's leadership means a lot to us," Schmidt said. "He is a veteran who helps everybody along. This year he has lost weight, learned how to play harder and is even more competitive."
With Borders leadership and the addition of Bright in the backcourt Tampa should be able to create enough problems in the perimeter game to open up the low post for players like Klimkoski and Evans.