National spotlight

Published 11:48 pm Thursday, November 13, 2008

Troy Trojan fans are in for a treat Saturday afternoon. The Troy faithful who don’t make the trip to watch the football team take on LSU will get the opportunity to see one of the best collegiate men’s basketball players in the nation face the Trojans.

Troy head coach Don Maestri said UAB shooting guard Robert Vaden will put on a show Saturday.

“Our main thing is that we are trying to create interest in our team,” Maestri said. “And most of that interest be sparked by UAB this weekend. I consider them a Top-25 team and they have all their starters back from last year. Plus they have the best shooting guard in the nation in Robert Vaden. But our team knows him as No. 24 because we want to make sure they don’t lose track of him.”

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The Blazers received two votes in the preseason AP Top-25 poll, which is good for No. 51.

Vaden was headed for the NBA Draft earlier this year, but he pulled his name out at the last second to come back for his senior season. That did not make Maestri happy.

“That was a very disappointing day for me,” Maestri said. “But in all fairness, they are more than just Vaden. They are a very talented basketball team and they are very athletic on offense and defense.”

Vaden broke single-season UAB records last year for points, 695; three-pointers made, 142 and three-pointers attempted, 355. The records from three-point range also put him in second and fifth, respectively, in the Conference USA record books.

Maestri said Saturday’s game should be a good game to allow the Troy fans to have a good time watching some Division I basketball.

“In my mind UAB is the best opponent to ever come to Trojan Arena,” Maestri said.

Another interesting angle on the game is that it will be the first time an opposing coach will have previous experience coaching in a national championship game, or a Final Four for that matter, according to Maestri.

UAB head coach Mike Davis was the head coach of the Indiana Hoosiers when they played for the title in 2002. Davis has been to the postseason in 11 of his 13 years as either an assistant or head coach and has missed the playoffs just once since becoming a head coach in 2000.

“Mike Davis has developed into one of the top Division I coaches,” Maestri said. “In observing him, I can say that he is the best Division I recruiting head coach. Sometimes in Division I the head coach passes recruiting off to the assistant coaches, but not Mike. He never lost that connection with the players.”

Maestri said he hopes the Troy fans come out because there are going to be a lot of green shirts in the stands.

“We normally have a certain amount of tickets for the other team’s fans and they (UAB) called and asked us for more,” Maestri said. “Their fans follow them and there are a lot of expectations on their team this year, so they want to travel with them to see how they do.”

And the short trip from Birmingham to Troy cannot hurt the attitude of the fans either.

This matchup began with the deal between the football teams of the two schools.

Last year Troy and UAB struck a deal to face each other on the gridiron beginning in 2009.

Well, the basketball teams struck a deal to start that matchup early on the court this year.

Troy hosts UAB Saturday and the Trojans head to Birmingham Dec. 20.

Next year when the football teams get involved in the in-state game, the football Trojans will host the Blazers and UAB will host the basketball game. In 2010, the basketball Trojans will host UAB and the football team will head to Birmingham. That trend will continue for however long the two teams agree to play each other.

Maestri is excited about the in-state matchup.

“It is great to have in-state games because people are usually more interested in those types of games,” he said. “There has always seemed to be a high interest level when we played teams from Alabama in the past, such as South Alabama or Jacksonville State.”

Tip off is at 2 p.m. tomorrow