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Published: Tuesday, 10/18/2011 - Updated: 3 years ago

UT turning the page

Infusion of fresh faces brings hope for Rockets

BY ZACH SILKA
BLADE SPORTS WRITER
Reese Holliday goes up to the basket as UT assistant coach Jason Kalsow defends in practice. Holliday is one of three returners from last year’s Toledo team, which finished 4-28. Reese Holliday goes up to the basket as UT assistant coach Jason Kalsow defends in practice. Holliday is one of three returners from last year’s Toledo team, which finished 4-28.
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As one of just three returners from last year’s University of Toledo men’s basketball team that tied a school record for futility with a 4-28 record, Reese Holliday is finally able to look around and see help is on the way.

The Rockets commenced their team workouts Friday, and already Holliday likes what he sees.

“Practice has been good, very high intensity,” Holliday said Monday. “I have high expectations, as well as the coaches. I think we have a real special group here.”

The 6-4 sophomore guard didn’t want to predict a total number of wins for UT during the 2011-12 season, but he was adamant it will be more than four.

“If we come out here and do what we need to do every night, I think the wins will add up,” Holliday said. “Way more than last year.”

The Rockets will have 10 new faces on the court this season — four transfers, three freshmen, and three new walk-ons.

Three of the transfers — senior guard Dominique Buckley from Iowa State and sophomore forwards Rian Pearson and Matt Smith from Wisconsin-Green Bay — will be able to compete immediately after sitting out all of last season and should all play a lot of minutes. The fourth, junior guard Curtis Dennis from New Mexico, won’t be eligible until after the completion of the fall semester.

Smith is currently “day-to-day” with a quadriceps injury, while sophomore center DeLino Dear is just getting back to action after undergoing procedures on both of his ailing knees earlier in the year.

Senior Dominique Buckley transferred from Iowa State and will make his regular season debut for the Rockets on Nov. 18. Senior Dominique Buckley transferred from Iowa State and will make his regular season debut for the Rockets on Nov. 18.
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With so many new faces, this next month of practice will be crucial for the Rockets, who open the regular season on Nov. 18 against Texas State at the Texas-Pan American Tournament. They will play a home exhibition game on Nov. 3 against the University of Northwestern Ohio.

“Obviously, it’s going to take time for everyone to come together and start playing great,” Buckley said. “I think we’re going to get better as the year goes on, but at this point, I’m already happy with where we are. I think we’re making tremendous strides.”

The downside to this roster and an issue coach Tod Kowalczyk will have to deal with all season is having just nine scholarship players at his disposal.

The Rockets were allowed just 10 grants-in-aid by the NCAA as a penalty for low Academic Progress Rate scores, and then they suffered another loss in July when incoming freshman forward Justin Moss was forced to give up basketball after being diagnosed with a genetic heart condition.

To compensate for the smaller roster, Kowalczyk plans to dial back the length of practices this season to keep his players fresh. The Rockets have also practiced just once per day since Friday, when many other teams are practicing twice a day.

So far, though, Kowalczyk is pleased with what he’s seen from his squad.

“I like this team,” he said. “Now it’s time for us to come together and get better, but I like the morale, and I really like the versatility of this team. We’ve got multiple guys that can make plays from different positions. That’s a key for us this year.”

Contact Zach Silka at: zsilka@theblade.com, 419-724-6084 or on Twitter @ZachSilka.



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