Optimism is brewing at a high-level for UIC, despite only five wins in coach Steve McClain’s inaugural season at the helm. The 2016 class is the prime reason for the optimism.
McClain and his staff have been able to reel in six newcomers who form arguably the top recruiting class in the Horizon League.
Here’s a look at how the 2016-2017 roster is shaping up:
Drew Hackett (transfer)
Gabe Snider (graduation)
Julian Torres (transfer)
Jake Wiegand (graduation)
Najeal Young (transfer)
Godwin Boahen; Freshman; 5-foot-11; 3-star recruit
The Canadian was described by McClain as a true point guard. He is also a solid shooter from deep, which will get him playing time as a freshman. Boahen also has familiarity with Ottey, as they played on the same AAU team last summer.
Marcus Ottey; Freshman; 6-foot; 3-star recruit
The marquee signee of the 2016 class, Ottey chose UIC over Cincinnati and Nebraska. As a high-major talent playing in a mid-major league, his impact should be instantaneous. A scoring lead-guard, Ottey can play on or off the ball. Blessed with great athleticism and length for a small guard, Ottey is capable of playing above the rim.
Lance Whitaker; Redshirt Junior; 6-foot-4
2015-2016 stats: 5.5 ppg, 3.8 rpg, 3.3 apg in 29.3 mpg
Whitaker filled in admirably at point guard this past season. He has great size for the position and took great care of the basketball (only 1.4 turnovers in nearly 30 minutes a game). Whitaker will be challenged for playing time by the incoming Canadian guards, but he can play all over the perimeter thanks to his size and unselfishness. The key will be improving as a perimeter shooter, so defenses can’t sag off him and clog the lane.
Tarkus Ferguson; Freshman; 6-foot-3; 3-star recruit
Ferguson helped lead Althoff to a Class 3A state championship in Illinois alongside several college-bound players. Ferguson is regarded as an athletic player with the versatility and length to play several spots on the floor. He is also an accurate shooter from beyond the arc. Ferguson adds great depth to the shooting guards on the roster.
Michael Kolawale; Sophomore; 6-foot-5
2015-2016 stats: 5.7 ppg, 2.6 rpg in 18.8 mpg
Kolawale was thrown into the fire once Dominique Matthews went down with an injury. The valuable playing time he received bodes well for the future. Kolawale has nice size for his position and is optimal for UIC’s fast-paced approach. He will need to improve his jump shot, which will open up driving lanes for him and his teammates.
Dominique Matthews; Redshirt Freshman; 6-foot-2
2015-2016 stats: 9.7 ppg, 2.8 rpg, 2.1 apg in 22.7 mpg
Matthews showed glimpses of being a high-scoring guard in his injury-riddled year. He reached double-figures in points four times, including 17- and 18-point outings against DePaul and Illinois. But in the five other games he appeared in, he failed to score at least 10 points. With a better supporting cast, he should be more consistent.
Markese McGuire; Senior; 6-foot-3
2015-2016 stats: 2.2 ppg, 1.1 rpg in 8.7 mpg
McGuire will be the lone senior on the roster next season. His biggest contribution to the team will be providing senior leadership. With the revamping of the shooting guard position, he will have to become a reliable threat from deep to garner minutes.
Jordan Blount; Freshman; 6-foot-7
A native of Ireland, Blount bolsters a wing position with playmaking skills as well as shooting ability from beyond the arc. Blount played with Ottey at Spire Institute, so the two have developed chemistry on the court.
Dikembe Dixson; Sophomore; 6-foot-7
2015-2016 stats: 19.8 ppg, 7.3 rpg, 1.8 apg, 1.2 spg in 36.7 mpg
The Horizon League Freshman of the Year will have a much stronger supporting cast in year two. Dixson won’t be asked to carry the load offensively, so his scoring numbers should go down. Dixson will need to get physically stronger and improve his efficiency. Dixson shot 39 percent from two, 30 percent from three and 66 percent from the free throw line. Those numbers should improve for the creative, high-scoring wing.
K.J. Santos; Freshman; 6-foot-7; 3-star recruit
High-majors were recruiting Santos because he’s a good, lengthy athlete who can shoot the ball from deep and attack defenses off the dribble. Santos has been hurt in his high school career, so he must add some strength to his thin frame so his body holds up.
Kyle Guice; Junior; 6-foot-8; Junior college transfer
2015-2016 stats: 7.9 ppg, 5.3 rpg, 1.8 apg, 1.2 spg in 25.6 mpg
Guice will fill the shooter role for UIC next season, as Gabe Snider has exhausted his eligibility. Guice played for a successful JUCO program at North Idaho, and made 60 of 166 shots from deep in 32 games, good for 36.1 percent. McClain coached Collin Hartman at Indiana for two seasons, and he and Guice share similarities as catch and shoot threats from three and undersized as power forwards. Guice will be a good glue-guy to have on the floor as he’s a capable passer and doesn’t need the ball in his hands to contribute. His biggest strength will be spacing the floor for UIC’s talented slashers.
Tai Odiase; Junior; 6-foot-9
2015-2016 stats: 9.5 ppg, 6.4 rpg, 3.2 bpg in 27.8 mpg
Odiase will return as the favorite for the Defensive Player of the Year in the Horizon League. He is an elite rim-protector who blocked 11.6 percent of 2-point field goals while he was on the court, according to kenpom.com. That was 8th-best in the country. Odiase must harness his aggressiveness defensively, he’ll be UIC’s tallest player. He can’t afford to get into foul trouble. He also needs to improve his 47.0 free throw percentage, as it makes him a liability late in games.
Hassan Thomas; Sophomore; 6-foot-7
2015-2016 stats: 1.7 ppg, 2.0 rpg in 8.0 mpg
Thomas played sparingly as a freshman, but there may be some playing time available backing up Odiase and playing his natural power forward position. This offseason will be crucial for Thomas; he’ll need to improve across the board to garner playing time.