Men’s basketball head coach Scott Cross was expecting the underclassmen to play a big role for the team this season, but he probably wasn’t expecting to play them so soon.

After suspending senior forwards Greg Gainey and Anthony Walker for a violation of team rules, Cross will have no choice but to turn to his young forwards, who shouldn’t take this opportunity lightly. They have a chance to make an early statement, and UTA will need solid production to survive without Gainey, who will miss the first six games of the season.

Although the six games he will miss are against nonconference opponents, it’s important for the team to build momentum so the Mavericks will have a better nonconference record than last year. UTA was 5-7 heading into its first game in the Sun Belt Conference and dropped three of its first four conference games.

Gainey, who is listed at 6-foot-5 and 212 pounds, is UTA’s only true wing and was anticipating a breakout year after missing last season with a torn hip labrum.

Without him, Cross will likely turn to sophomore forward Jorge Bilbao, who started a surprising 10 games as a freshman last year.

Bilbao gives the team an energy boost with his presence on the court, and he’s an adequate utility player who will set down screens and box out for loose rebounds.

Unfortunately, he hasn’t quite figured out his niche offensively and won’t pull many defenders in, leaving the low post covered and making offensive rebounding difficult for UTA.

While he hasn’t had a chance to play any meaningful minutes yet, freshman Kevin Hervey is an option Cross should consider because his size will allow him to move easier in the post.

Hervey, a 6-foot-7, 210-pound forward, has been hyped up as a Freshman of the Year candidate by one of his teammates, despite having yet to play a game.

“I think Kevin Hervey can be the Freshman of the Year for our conference,” junior guard Johnny Hill said. “And that’s just not talking because he’s on my team. He’s a great player, and when he realizes it, he’s going to be real good for us.”

While Hervey is smaller than Bilbao, he might be able to provide the Mavericks a better scoring option and needs to take advantage early, because it could be harder for him to get minutes when Gainey returns from suspension Dec. 2.

The Mavericks are a guard-heavy team that will depend on moving the ball around the court to wear down opponents and set up open shots.

Without Gainey, UTA loses a scoring option and a defensive workhorse who will likely do most of the grunt work under the rim this season.

Hervey deserves minutes in his absence, but whomever Cross chooses to play his position needs to take an advantage of the opportunity and provide the Mavericks with consistent production so they can avoid the same slow start to the season, like last year.

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