TERRE HAUTE —
Six-foot-10 … cubed.
In a bevy full of daunting numbers Indiana State’s men’s basketball team faces at it plays its season-opener at UCLA at 11 p.m. tonight, that might be the most terrifying of all.
The Bruins offer a myriad of challenges for the Sycamores, but their 6-10 trio of Travis Wear (11.5), David Wear (10.2), and center Joshua Smith (9.9) is biggest of all, literally and figuratively.
Given that ISU’s frontcourt was depleted by the loss of their sole true center Mike Samuels, UCLA’s 6-10 threesome will be hard to contend with.
“They’re huge. Other than Smith, these are guys who are really mobile and can run as good as guards,” ISU coach Greg Lansing said.
“They can handle the ball like guards,” Lansing continued. “They shoot like guards and they’re athletic as crazy. Smith is just a really big super-talented big man that would be hard for anyone to defend.”
Charged with dealing with UCLA’s big front line is a combination of Jake Kitchell, Justin Gant, R.J. Mahurin and Rhett Smith. The Sycamores know that while they can’t match the size, they have to at least be prepared.
“Coach Lou [Gudino] and I talk a lot about being a block-out big. To work positioning, because I’m not going to sky over someone to get a rebound,” Kitchell said.
“I think this week, more than any other, we need to focus on positioning and making sure we’re getting our guys and blocking them out. Keeping those big guys off the boards is a tough task, but we’re up for it,” he added.
UCLA’s excellence doesn’t stop with its frontcourt. North Carolina transfer Larry Drew II will make his debut. Drew averaged six assists per game as sophomore with the Tar Heels.
Highly-touted freshman Kyle Anderson, one of the nation’s most coveted recruits, will also make his debut. Then there’s junior Tyler Lamb (9 points per game), UCLA’s most experienced guard. He is nursing a knee injury, but might play tonight.
“The backcourt is really deep and then you throw one of the best coaches in the country? We’ll have our hands full. I respect them a ton,” Lansing said.
Up in the air is the status of 6-6 swingman Shabazz Muhammad, who was rated by some recruiting services as the No. 1-rated player coming out of high school.
Muhammad was initially ruled out due to a shoulder sprain. Moreover, Muhammad has yet to be cleared by the NCAA after questions have arisen about Muhammad receiving alleged impermissible compensation, which threatens his amateur status.
However, reports of out the Los Angeles media indicated Wednesday that Muhammad might be healthy enough to play if cleared by the NCAA in-time.
Finally, ISU was chosen to open the newly-renovated Pauley Pavilion. Legendary former UCLA coach John Wooden began his career at ISU — coaching from 1946-48 — and the Sycamores were deemed most appropriate to re-open the iconic facility.
Given that UCLA is the most decorated college basketball program of all-time, with 10 national titles won under Wooden, it’s a safe bet that the pomp and circumstance will be high when Pauley Pavilion is re-christened.
“This will be our first go-around, and it’s tough that it’s against one of the top teams in the country in that environment, but maybe you’re more locked-in and focused a bit?” Lansing said.
Odum, a veteran of spotlight wins in the 2011 MVC Tournament and in an upset win over ranked Vanderbilt a year ago, wouldn’t have ISU’s opener play out any other way.
“I love playing games like this. I get to put that chip on my shoulder and that’s what all of the guys on the team should do. We’re all at a mid-major program because those upper-tier teams didn’t think we were good enough. So we have to go out and prove we can play,” Odum said.
“We’re not individually better than each one of them, so it’ll take a whole team effort. Any five guys put together as a team can be better than any five they have out there,” Odum added.
n TV clearance — The ISU-UCLA game is scheduled to be broadcast on Fox Sports Midwest.
On satellite services, the game will go on as planned. On cable, the Indiana Pacers’ 8 p.m. game against Minnesota is not expected to interfere with the broadcast.