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UAB extends Robert Ehsan ahead of pivotal year in CUSA

The third-year Blazer coach has cleaned up on the recruiting trail.

NCAA Basketball: UAB at Middle Tennessee State Jim Brown-USA TODAY Sports

UAB is continuing to put faith in Robert Ehsan, at least for one more year.

The school announced on Monday that it had added an extra year to Ehsan’s contract, putting him in charge in Birmingham through 2022. The soon-to-be third-year Blazers coach talked about the move in a release.

“I am beyond appreciative for the belief that has been instilled in me and my staff,” Ehsan said. “Competing for championships is the standard for UAB basketball and I am excited to lead this storied program as we continue to build upon its outstanding tradition.”

UAB has gone 37-29 in Ehsan’s first two years, including 19-17 in league play. The Blazers had a marginal bump in overall record from his first year to his second (20-13 against 17-16), but did vault up the KenPom ratings. They posted an offensive efficiency figure 100 spots better last season (87th), and improved 87 points overall (No. 109).

The extension may be more ornamental than anything else. Ehsan can tell high school recruits this year with full-blown sincerity that he’ll be around for their entire careers. And it is his work on the recruiting trail that is the best case for Ehsan elevating UAB back to where it was briefly under Jerrod Hasse not that long ago.

Rising sophomore Zack Bryant was a bright spot on last year’s team, making 32 starts and averaging 13.6 points per game. The guard landed on the CUSA All-Freshman team, and should be the focus of a team that is losing a lot of production both to graduation (William Lee, Chris Cokley) and transfer (Nick Norton, Nate Darling).

But Ehsan does have reinforcements on the way. He signed prep wing Ryan Boyce, who held interest from Florida, Georgia and Ole Miss and is 247Sports’ 224th-ranked prospect in the country. His high school coach — since-minted Memphis coach Penny Hardaway — talked about Boyce last November.

Team Penny founder and East head coach Penny Hardaway said Boyce’s best basketball is yet to come.

”He’s going to bring energy, athleticism ... (but) he definitely hasn’t reached his potential,” Hardaway said. “When he gets out in transition, he’s an athlete. Very athletic. And he spot-up shoots the ball better than people give him credit for.

In addition to Boyce, Ehsan added a trio of prep players that Verbal Commits lists as three-star prospects in center Jude Akabueze, forward Tamell Pearson and wing Tavin Lovan.

Lovan, who spent last year at prep powerhouse Hargrave Military Academy, knows there are minutes available right away.

Having the opportunity to compete for a spot in the rotation immediately was another factor.

“That was really big to me,” Lovan said. “At the end of the day, it’s a great opportunity to play right away. Then again, it could be taken away, so I’m just ready to work and do what I have to do to get in the game. The opportunity is there, I’ve just got to take advantage of it.”

This group, along with Bryant, may decide whether Ehsan ultimately makes an impact at UAB. And it enters at an interesting time in CUSA. Middle Tennessee has suddenly gone from surefire contender to question mark with Kermit Davis leaving for Ole Miss. Old Dominion is also dealing with heavy personnel losses, as Marshall and Western Kentucky look to be the early favorites in 2018-19.

The league is likely at its best with UAB, one of its strongest traditional powers, toward the top of the conference. At least in small increments, the Blazers’ administration thinks they’ve got the man in place to make that happen.