Eric Gaines, UAB Blazers

Coach Kennedy looks to re-load his roster after the UAB Blazers fell just short of an NIT championship and NCAA Tournament bid.

The UAB Blazers’s season would be considered a success to most programs, but Andy Kennedy’s group is not satisfied with NIT bids. To that point, they brought in Alejandro Vasquez, Daniel Ortiz, Marquis Hargrove, and Yaxel Lendeborg from the JUCO ranks and James White, Barry Dunning, and Will Shaver from Power 6 teams. The loss of star point guard Jelly Walker stings, but the roster has much more depth this year. In addition to holdovers Eric Gaines and Javian Davis-Fleming, North Alabama transfer Daniel Ortiz should provide a scoring threat to the backcourt.

In addition to roster changes, the conference is changing as well. UAB has made the jump from Conference USA to the AAC. In this latest batch of conference realignment, it could help out UAB’s at-large hopes in the years to come, even with Houston off to the Big 12.

Click here to learn more about our preseason top 100 teams heading into the 2023-24 college basketball season.

Head coach:  Andy Kennedy (3rd season)

2022-23 record: 29-10 (14-6)

2023 postseason finish: Lost to North Texas, 68-61, in NIT Championship

Notable departures: Jordan Walker (NBA), KJ Buffen (Graduated), Trey Jemison (NBA), Ty Brewer (Graduated), LeDarrius Brewer (Graduated), Tavin Lovan (Graduated)

Notable nonconference games: vs. Clemson (Nov. 10), at Middle Tennessee (Nov. 21), vs. McNeese (Nov. 28)

Projected Rotation

PG:  Eric Gaines (6-2, 155, Sr.)

2022-23 stats: 11.5 PPG, 4.3 APG, 3.4 RPG, 1.8 SPG

SG: Daniel Ortiz (6-0, 180, Jr.)

2022-23 stats: 14.0 PPG, 4.6 RPG, 1.8 APG, 1.0 SPG, 40.9 3P% (North Alabama Lions)

SF: Alejandro Vasquez (6-4, 205, Rs.Jr.)

2022-23 stats: 18.4 PPG, 3.2 RPG, 2.9 APG, 1.3 SPG, 40.6 3P% (Salt Lake City CC)

PF: Christian Coleman (6-9, 190, So.)

2022-23 stats: 16.0 PPG, 8.0 RPG, 2.5 APG, 1.2 BPG, 51.9 FG% (South Plains CC)

C: Yaxel Lendeborg (6-9, 230, Jr.)

2022-23 stats: 17.2 PPG, 13.0 RPG, 2.6 APG, 1.5 SPG, 1.4 BPG, 72.7 FG% (Arizona Western College)

6:Marquis Hargrove (6-3, 180, Jr.)

2022-23 stats: 14.5 PPG, 3.8 RPG, 1.9 APG, 37.9 3P% (Arizona Western College)

7: Javian Davis-Fleming (6-9, 242, Rs.-Sr.)

2022-23 stats: 6.1 PPG, 3.4 RPG, 0.5 APG, 55.6 FG%

8: James White (6-5, 190, Jr.)

2022-23 stats: 4.0 PPG, 2.0 RPG, 1.0 APG (Ole Miss)

9: Barry Dunning (6-6, 185, So.)

2022-23 stats: 0.3 PPG, 0.2 RPG, 0.1 APG (Arkansas)

10: Will Shaver (6-10, 260, Rs.So.)

2022-23 stats: 0.7 PPG, 0.3 APG, 0.3 RPG (North Carolina)

11: Efrem Johnson (6-4, 180, Jr.)

2022-23 stats: 3.5 PPG, 1.3 RPG, 0.6 APG, 37.8 3P%

12: Tony Toney (6-2, 195, Sr.)

2022-23 stats: 3.4 PPG, 2.0 RPG, 0.6 APG, 0.5 SPG

UAB Blazers MVP: Yaxel Lendeborg

This Arizona Western College product showed out last year in JUCO. He was named Second Team All-American, ACCAC Player of the Year, and First Team All-Region. In his second year of play (2021-2022), Yaxel Lendeborg averaged a double-double and followed it up by becoming an even better scorer and rebounder. He has learned how to be a better player every year, gained more experience, filled out, and became a real standout landing as the number nine player in the JUCO rankings. While his fellow teammates, Chris Coleman was number two, and Alejandro Vasquez was number six, Lendeborg is an offensive threat with versatile shooting ability. Coleman is not known for his 3-point shooting, while Lendeborg is and his ability to grab rebounds make him even more of a threat.

This Blazers’ team is about to be just that, shot blazers. With the offensive players that have come, Yaxel Lendeborg is going to get so many easy opportunities and stretch defenses. If these players transition into Division 1 basketball seemlessly this team will be one that many do not want to see in March. Lendeborg does so many things well, that his stat sheet is going to fill up, and quickly. He doesn’t force the game and its seen through his numbers, shooting 72.7% from the field and 43.8% from 3-point range. Lendeborg made more 3-pointers than Coleman on almost half as many attempts.

There are some massive holes left open by Trey Jemison has signed with the Pelicans – this role seemingly fits more for Coleman. Meanwhile, Lendeborg feels more like KJ Buffen and can fill in a variety of ways. Even then, this new look for the Blazers have additional open minutes with the loss of Ty Brewer for forwards to have an opportunity for more minutes.

UAB Blazers make-or-break player: Alejandro Vasquez

The former Salt Lake City Community College guard is looking to fill a big role of Jordan ‘Jelly’ Walker. The extra couple of inches of height, Vasquez is coming in and will likely be lighting up scoreboards for the Blazers. As the sixth best JUCO player last year, Vasquez showed what he could do offensively, but he is also a team player. He is a combo guard that could be a small forward, where I would have him play based on his teammates.

Key analytic: 3-point Rate

This key analytic surprised me, but the UAB Blazers were tied for 317th 3-point rate. This team was 31.5, when the average last year was 37.3. This means that this team did not take a lot of 3-pointers on average. For every 100 possessions, the Blazers were putting up a 3-pointer on 31.5% of the time. With the players that this team has brought it, this number likely goes up a little bit, but likely won’t be a staple. The reload in place is impressive as the players are looking to be even more efficient in 3-pointers. While the 3-point rate was so low, the Blazers made 35.6% of 3-pointers which was good enough for 87th. This team does not look like it is taking a step down, but more likely a step up.

UAB Blazers 2023-24 projections

Projected conference finish: 3rd in the American Athletic Conference

Projected postseason ceiling: NCAA Tournament – Round of 32

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