The struggles of the University of Toledo men's basketball team have become the hot topic of chatter throughout the Mid-American Conference.
The Rockets (3-23, 0-12 MAC) enter tonight's game against Eastern Michigan on a school-record 16-game losing streak, and even their former coach is chiming in on their troubles.
While working as the color analyst for Fox Sports Detroit's telecast of the matchup between Eastern Michigan and Western Michigan on Sunday, Stan Joplin said that for UT to get a win in the remainder of the season, the other team “must not want to play and all the stars, planets, and moons must align.”
Joplin, who was fired following the 2007-08 season after a 12-year stint as his alma mater's head coach, could not be reached yesterday and did not return a message seeking comment.
Although he did not see the FSD telecast, UT coach Gene Cross said yesterday that he was made aware of Joplin's remarks by several people in the last two days.
“I don't really worry about that stuff,” Cross said. “Stan did a great job when he was here, but I'm not concerned with what he has to say about this team now.”
Cross added that he plans to turn Joplin's statement into a potential positive for the Rockets by posting it as motivational bulletin board material.
I'm going to use it somehow,” Cross said. “I just haven't figured out how yet.”
Junior forward Justin Anyijong, one of only two players on UT's roster along with suspended junior forward Mouhamed Lo that played for Joplin, said after practice yesterday that he hadn't yet heard or seen his former coach's comments.
“Everybody has their own different opinions when it comes to some matters or situations,” Anyijong said. “We just have to focus on doing what we do best for us as a team and not focus on those outsiders.”
Despite the negativity surrounding the program, the UT players and coaching staff have remained positive while trying to grab that elusive conference victory.
Now in the midst of their second trip through the MAC West Division, Cross believes there is reason for hope with his youthful team getting a second look at all of its remaining conference opponents instead of seeing a new adversary for the first time.
UT showed a newfound poise at the outset of its rematch with Central Michigan on Sunday with an 8-2 run to start the game. And although they weren't able to sustain that level of play, the Rockets hope to take that experience into tonight's game against another opponent they held a first-half lead against in their first meeting in Ypsilanti.
“Whenever you see somebody for a second time, there's a familiarity that leads to a level of comfort and confidence,” Cross said. “With young guys, any carrot that you can give them to almost trick them into being more confident is a good thing.”
Freshman guard Jake Barnett, UT's leading scorer, sees an opportunity with tonight's home game against Eastern Michigan.
“We're definitely looking to come in [tonight] and get a win,” Barnett said. “I think that if we come out like we did last time against them with some energy and hopefully our crowd will stay behind us and we'll be able to follow through this time in the second half.
“If we can put a full game together, we should be able to get a win.”
Contact Zach Silka at: firstname.lastname@example.org.