By Brian McInnis
It's that time ladies and gentlemen. The UH basketball 2012-13 season tips off tonight against Maryland-Eastern Shore at the Stan Sheriff Center.
Here are some things to keep an eye on in this one:
>> Vander Joaquim's minutes. It's looking like the big fella will play, but the question is, how much? Does Gib Arnold give him spot minutes off the bench? When he's in, which other bigs will he play alongside?
>> Point guard play. It was a struggle against HPU in the exhibition last week. Will Jace Tavita get into a rhythm early? If not, how long will Arnold wait until calling upon Garrett Jefferson and/or Manroop Clair?
>> Big man battles. UMES has one of the biggest front line rotations (6-11, 6-10, 6-9, 6-9) UH will see in the nonconference season. We'll find out early how the 'Bows' bigs go up against comparable size.
>> Defensive strategy. UH played almost exclusively man-to-man defense in the preseason, with smatterings of zone thrown in. Expect the same tonight. But the zone could emerge if UH plays a big lineup with Isaac Fotu or Christian Standhardinger at the 3.
>> Student turnout. UH made a renewed push to get its student base out to these first games, knocking on dorm doors, having a rally at campus center this week, and offering free shirts to the first 300 students to show up tonight. It's always been tough getting UH students to show up in droves at basketball games (with the exception of the midnight games). We'll see if this made an impact.
Here's some Q&As from interviews conducted after Wednesday and Thursday's practices.
Q: Are you all good to go for this weekend?
A: I'm ready. I'm ready to be out there and contribute for the team.
Q: Have you felt better as the week of practice has gone on?
A: Oh, yeah, definitely. Every day I just keep getting better. I'm adjusting my game, feeling more comfortable every day. (Friday) no excuse. I'm ready to play. Whenever I'm out there, I'll give it my all.
Q: Coach sounds like he wants to be pretty careful with you ...
A: That's true. I don't be careful. I'm the one who should be taking (it) careful. Coach is going to take careful. But if I'm ready to play, I'm ready to play. I'm looking forward to it, I'm excited.
Q: Thoughts on the opener?
A: I'm excited. It was good to get the exhibition game out of the way to get the nerves out of the way, first time playing in front of a crowd. I'm excited for the game.
Q: How do you feel the front line has come together with Vander back?
A: It feels strong. Any two that's in there, whether it's Davis or Christian or Vander or myself. I think that will be one of our strengths this year.
Q: What kind of crowd are you expecting?
A: I think it will be a decent crowd. We've been going around the dorms getting people to come to our game. But I imagine a big crowd. Whatever happens, I think if we start winning, people will turn up to watch. That's the plan.
Q: What do you think about trying to make an instant impact with this team?
A: I think playing against grown men back home really helped me to mature quicker and get used to the speed of the game. I'm just trying to have an impact in any way I can and help the team.
Q: Have you played something like three games in four days before?
A: Only in national tournaments. You have to look after the body and eat the right things. Get good rest so you're always fresh for the games.
Q: What's your general feeling on team readiness?
A: As of right now, I feel pretty confident. We've been working hard during practice, we've been playing good defense, executing offense. So we're looking forward to this weekend, we're just going to go out and play 100 percent.
Q: How does it feel for you to be set for your first game after redshirting last year?
A: Yeah, I'm very excited. Actually last year, I wanted to the get on the court, but I couldn't, because I redshirted. But this year I'm very excited. I'm just going to go out there and try to play my hardest for the team to get W's.
Q: Where do you feel you've come as a player from then?
A: I think, actually, I came a long way. I got into shape. I know the college game better now. So, hopefully we'll see what we can do this weekend. Put something together.
Q: Know anything about your opponents?
A: We honestly have no idea. I've never heard of these teams, but you gotta go out there and just give it your all.
Q: What's it like having Vander back?
A: It's been great. Big Vander is a plus, of course. He just spreads out the floor for us to get me and Hauns open 3s. He's a big force down low on defense.
Q: Got any family coming down to Hawaii for any games this year?
A: Actually yeah, yeah, at the Diamond Head Classic, my family's going to come out. And I'm going to be seeing them a lot in Cali. They're probably coming out to every game (there). I'm excited, can't wait.
Q: Where are you guys as a cohesive unit?
A: As of right now I think we're a good team but as the season kicks in, I think we could be a great team, just by executing on offense. Playing together, mainly on the defensive side.
Q: How different does this group of guys feel to last year's at this point?
A: It feels pretty different. I feel like the chemistry is really well right now. We're kind of clicking on all cylinders. But we're still trying to get better at the same time. So I mean, at this point of the season everyone's real excited and everything feels really good.
Q: What's it been like with Vander out there working his way back?
A: Oh, it's been fun. Not only we're excited for the season, we're excited Vander's back. He's going to help us a lot. It just amps us up for the first couple games.
Q: You're a guy who saw him all last year. Does he look like himself yet?
A: I'm sure it's going to take him a little time, but he still looks good. He still looks like Vander. That never hurts.
Q: How are you feeling on progressing in a point guard's role?
A: I feel pretty good. I'm still learning stuff every day, from Jace and watching film and the other point guards. Still learning, but I feel pretty good and confident going into these games.