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Nothing but Net

Preseason favorites to win the Sun Belt Conference title. Giants on the court and in the classroom. A history of domination. UTA’s basketball teams are poised for victory in 2016-17.

By Kathryn Hopper

Illustration by Steve Boyle

UTA men’s basketball, led by Coach Scott Cross ’98, returns all five starters after a historic season in which they won 24 games, tying a program record. The team was selected as a preseason favorite to win the Sun Belt Conference title in 2016-17 by a poll of league coaches.

The Lady Mavs, coached by Krista Gerlich, welcome returning Sun Belt All-Conference players Rebekah VanDijk and Cierra Johnson and look to improve last season’s 15-16 record to be a contender for the Sun Belt Conference title.

Coaches Scott Cross and Krista Gerlich are ready for an exciting new season of Maverick basketball.

The Movin’ Mavs wheelchair basketball team, a powerhouse with seven national titles, hopes to add another championship. The Lady Movin’ Mavs work to defend their 2016 national title, earned in the program’s second season thanks to players like gold medal-winning Paralympians Abby Dunkin and Rose Hollermann, the 2015-16 NWBA Collegiate Player of the Year.

“Maverick basketball is at an all-time high if you take all the teams together,” Cross says. “This could be an unprecedented year across the board for all four programs.”

Men’s Basketball

Coach Scott Cross was running laps inside College Park Center one chilly winter’s day when he noticed some of his players taking the elevator one floor up from the locker room to the concourse level.

“I couldn’t sleep that night,” he says. “I was talking to my wife and I was like, ‘you won’t believe what happened!’ My guys were so lazy they took the elevator from the training room up to the concourse. I was fuming mad.”

Then he had an idea. At the game the next day he gathered the players during the opening shoot-around. Cross asked those who had taken the elevator that one flight up to raise their hands. He told them they would henceforth be taking the stairs—but this time, just before tipoff, they would take them on their hands with their teammates supporting their ankles.

“We made them walk all the way up on their hands and then all the way back down to midcourt,” he says. “The lesson was that those elevators are for people who can’t walk or who are carrying big things. They’re for the trainers when they have 50 gallons of ice or water they’re transporting. They’re not for you guys, superior athletes. We can’t have the mentality that we’re looking for shortcuts. So it just evolved from there.”

That day, in the middle of the 2014-15 season, became a turning point for the team.

Now UTA is coming off one of its most successful seasons in program history, earning a national ratings percentage index (RPI) as high as 27th in the country. (RPI is a quantity used by the NCAA to rank its various sports teams based on the team’s wins, losses, and schedule strength.)

The Mavericks also earned impressive victories on the road over perennial powerhouses Ohio State and Memphis and barely lost a heartbreaker to UT Austin en route to a 14-3 start, the best in program history.

The UTA men battle for dominance at the 2015 Homecoming game.

With a deep and seasoned roster, UTA this season is projected by most analysts to be one of the top mid-major programs in the country. All five starters and 11 letter-winners are returning for 31 regular season games against teams from 13 different conferences, including such traditional powers as Minnesota in the Big Ten and Arkansas in the Southeastern Conference. The rematch with the Texas Longhorns is November 29 in Austin.

Also returning is Coach Cross. A three-year letterman during his playing days at UTA from 1996-98, Cross converted 41.5 percent of his 3-point shots in his senior year and graduated with a perfect 4.0 average in marketing.

Since taking over the program in 2006, Cross has presided over the most successful era ever in Maverick basketball, compiling a record of 177-139 over 10 seasons. He hopes to pack College Park Center (CPC) for home games this year.

“Last year we had the most fans ever in terms of average attendance, and it definitely made a difference,” he says. “In the games where CPC’s been packed, the atmosphere is absolutely amazing. Whenever we have above 2,000 people it’s a pretty good atmosphere, but once you get above 3,000 fans, it gets crazy. We’ve had three or four games with 5,000-plus and it’s nuts. It’s as good as any atmosphere anywhere in the country.”

The annual Sun Belt Conference Championships are scheduled for March 8-12 at Lakefront Arena in New Orleans. The men’s final will be televised live on ESPN.

Cross, who is married to fellow Maverick Jennifer Harris and has three young sons, agreed to a four-year contract extension in March.

“I’m looking forward to the next four years here,” he says. “I think we can do some great things. I have visions of winning a national championship here at UTA. You can’t do it overnight, but we can continue to head in that direction.”

Lady Mavs

When she came to UTA in 2013, Coach Krista Gerlich knew one thing—success in the classroom would always come before the basketball court.

“We want to make sure our kids understand that academics are their priority, that they need to focus on getting their degrees,” says Gerlich, who has guided the team to a resurgence on and off the court over the last two seasons using the slogan “Change for Championships.”

In 2015-16 the Lady Mavs won the Sun Belt Conference Academic Achievement Award for having the highest grade point average among the conference’s women’s basketball teams.

“That was a huge accomplishment for us,” Gerlich says. “It was a step in the right direction because our mission when we got here was ‘change for championship.’ For it to be an academic championship was a great first step for us.”

In her debut season at UTA, Gerlich guided the team to its first winning season in more than five years. Last year the team battled injuries to post a 15-16 record and finished 34th nationally in scoring defense at 56.5 points per game—second best in the Sun Belt Conference.

This season the Lady Mavs return both of its Sun Belt All-Conference players, juniors Rebekah VanDijk and Cierra Johnson.

Five nonconference games at CPC highlight the first half of the season, beginning with rival UT San Antonio as part of Homecoming weekend on campus.

“This could be an un-precedented year in basketball across the board for all four programs.”

“Our nonconference schedule gives us many challenges that I feel will prepare us for league play in the Sun Belt Conference,” Gerlich says. “I’m excited to have Wichita State and Stephen F. Austin in our facility, since both are well-coached and well-respected programs from good conferences.”

UTA opens Sun Belt play at home on December 29 vs. Appalachian State. The team’s nonconference schedule includes a home game against Stephen F. Austin and a tough road schedule that features Western Kentucky on November 16, Kansas State on December 7, and Texas Tech on December 22.

“Traveling to WKU, Kansas State, and Texas Tech will be challenging, but will give our team experience playing in difficult environments against high-quality opponents. We are excited to get this season started, and our fans will have plenty of high-quality basketball to keep them entertained at College Park Center.”

In April, UTA extended Gerlich’s contract for two more years.

“She and her staff have done a great job in the three years they have been here,” says Athletic Director Jim Baker. “I am extremely excited about where this team is going and the future of the program both on the court and in the classroom. We are in great hands with Coach Gerlich at the helm.”

“UTA is a great university that we will continue to showcase on a national level,” Gerlich says. “I am thrilled to be at UTA and excited about our future.”

Movin’ Mavs and
Lady Movin’ Mavs

Forty years ago wheelchair basketball came to UTA as a recreational activity for disabled students. The team has evolved from those early days when it was known as the UTA Freewheelers to become an intercollegiate national powerhouse with eight national titles—seven for the Movin’ Mavs men’s team and a 2016 victory for the Lady Movin’ Mavs.

Coach Doug Garner says the program’s rich history—which includes multiple First Team All-Americans, gold medal-winning Paralympians, and scores of advocates and supporters—continues to build a powerful legacy.

“With a nice class of freshmen and transfers coming in for the men’s and women’s teams, it looks like another great year to add to our growing history of success,” he says.

In March, the Lady Movin’ Mavs won the National Intercollegiate Wheelchair Basketball Tournament with a 65-51 victory over the University of Illinois. The Movin’ Mavs fell to the University of Alabama in their quest for another title despite solid performances by players such as Adryan Powell, now a sophomore, who shot seven of 10 to score 14 points.

This year’s schedule features two home tournaments, including one coming up February 17-19. Fans can follow the Movin’ Mavs and Lady Movin’ Mavs online at movinmavstv.com, with up-to-date rosters, photos, and live feeds of the games.

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