Jeter Thinks Adversity Strengthened UWM
MILWAUKEE (AP) -- Wis.-Milwaukee Coach Rob Jeter said Monday that losing seven of its first ten games to start last season was good for his Panthers.
"Due to that adversity, we were able to separate ourselves from some players that just weren't quite as committed," Jeter said at a preseason luncheon. "Then we had a group that was very committed, and it really allowed us to have some more success."
The new solidarity that developed helped the Panthers win six straight games and nine out of their next ten.
Amazingly, the torrid streak that started with a Dec. 12 74-71 win over Central Michigan came after four players -- freshmen Tim Flowers and Kevin Johnson, starter Torre Johnson and reserve Roman Gentry -- left the program for various reasons.
And those losses were on top of the preseason dismissal of high-scoring guard Avery Smith for unspecified disciplinary problems.
Returning starting guard Ricky Franklin (9.8 points last season) said Milwaukee rebounded strongly because the remaining players became committed to winning under Jeter.
"We lost a lot of guys, so that was all we had," Franklin said of a roster that dipped as low as eight players. "We had to do what we had. We played with a lot of heart, we played with a lot of intensity. We played together."
The new unity led Milwaukee to a 14-16 record, an improvement from a 9-22 mark the previous season. Jeter thinks his team can continue making progress because his players are still committed to winning and because he has a slew of new players.
Milwaukee's preseason roster lists 18 players. Nine newcomers include three junior college transfers who will experience to a young squad with just three seniors.
Several newcomers also add needed height and bulk. They include two junior college transfers -- 6-foot-8 Burleigh Porte and 6-7, 340-pound James Eayrs -- and a trio of freshmen -- Tony Meier and Ryan Haggerty, both 6-8, and 6-6 Riley Walker of McFarland (Wisconsin) High School.
Jeter is delighted at his now bulging roster.
"It is refreshing to look down the bench and know that you have some options," Jeter said. "We have a good solid eight to nine guys that I feel really comfortable with. You can't play six guys, seven guys like we were trying to do last year."
His lineup is strongest at guard with the return of starters Franklin and Deonte Roberts. Also back is Smith, who averaged 15.5 points two years ago.
Jeter still won't talk about Smith's problems but says Smith has been forgiven.
"What I'm glad is Avery has matured and together we've grown up," Jeter said. "I'm more excited to see him as a person become better because he's always been a basketball talent."
Smith is just happy to be back.
"I missed it a lot last year, a whole lot," Smith said. "I think they could have used me and I was kind of upset I wasn't there."
Jeter is looking forward to the season, which begins with an exhibition game Wednesday against the Milwaukee School of Engineering.
"Now it's time for us to put it all together," he said. "It's a much better place where we are now than it was last year."
(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)