UC Irvine one of the best kept secrets in college basketball

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Brad Greene photo courtesy of UC Irvine Athletics.

Interview with Russ Turner the head coach of UC Irvine.

Some secrets are simply too good not be shared. 

The UC Irvine Anteaters have been one of the best programs in all of college basketball over the past decade and the secret is starting to get out. 

UC Irvine is led by 49 year-old head coach Russ Turner who was named Big West Coach of the Year in 2019-20 for the fourth time in 10 years. 

The Anteaters went 21-11 this past year and were the Big West regular season champions for the second year in a row (before the cancelation of the conference tournament) and they have held at least a share of the conference title in five of the past seven seasons.

The cat was let out of the bag on just how good UC Irvine has been in recent years during their magical run to the 2019 NCAA Tournament when they upset Kansas State as a No.13 seed before falling to Oregon in the second round. 

The success at UC Irvine during their 31-6 season in 2018-19 has set the standard for the program for many years to come. 

Turner said, “We’re at a point in our program where we’re hoping to make the NCAA tournament and advance in the NCAA tournament.” He continued, “I purposely keep that advancement vague because I’d like to catch fire one year and do something special here like we did when we beat Kansas State and the goals in this program are going to remain really high.”

Although UC Irvine lost four seniors to graduation, they will remain one of the favourites in the Big West with a strong cast of characters returning for 2020-21.   

On the floor, UC Irvine will be led by a pair of big men heading into next season which include fifth-year centre Brad Greene. The 6-foot-11 Greene was raised on the Paiute-Shoshone Reservation in Lone Pine, CA and he averaged 9 points per game last year along with a Big West leading 7.7 rebounds which included a season high 21 rebounds against Hawaii. 

Turner said he was surprised Greene wasn’t named First Team All-Big West but he is expecting big things from him this year along with fellow big man Collin Welp

Welp is a 6-foot-9 junior from Seattle, WA who was named First Team All-Conference despite only starting two games all year. He averaged 13 points per game along with 5.9 rebounds in 2019-20 and look for those numbers to increase with even more playing time next season. 

In what now seems like a rarity in college basketball, UC Irvine has zero incoming transfers ahead of the 2020-21 season

Turner said, “We’ve had great continuity in the time I’ve been here at Irvine and I think that says a lot about the program.” He added, “It says a lot about where we live and how good we’ve got it and I think it says a lot about the fact that we play a lot of guys and people enjoy their roles here and if we can continue to do that we’re going to be good.”

With the success that UC Irvine has had under Turner it would seem natural that perhaps a major conference program would come calling for his services. However, Turner seems indifferent to the idea of coaching college basketball elsewhere which should come as good news for Anteater fans in Irvine. 

Turner asked, “Have you been to Irvine?” He added, “It’s a special opportunity I have to be here and the more impact we make with the players we have here then the more success we’re able to generate with the program and the more satisfying that becomes.”

There is a Buddhist saying that three things cannot long stay hidden; the sun, the moon and the truth.

Well, the truth is that UC Irvine is a damn good basketball team. 

They will return 53 percent of their offensive output from last season so don’t expect a let down from the Anteaters in 2020-21.

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