Kent State men's basketball coach Gary Waters has assembled a stable of young stallions since taking over the program last season. And he's anxiously anticipating the havoc they'll cause unsuspecting opposition when he turns them loose in 1997-98.
"We are going to run and pressure teams all over the floor this year," said Waters, whose Flashes will open the season Saturday afternoon at the Memorial Athletic and Convocation Center against Hillsdale College at 2 p.m. "What people, and even the players I recruit don't realize is that this is not an unstructured system where players just run around. It's actually very disciplined and very structured, and it will take awhile for this young team to catch on."
Last year, the Flashes (9-18 in '96-97) didn't have the horses to play fullcourt basketball for 40 full minutes. But that's no longer the case.
Waters has completely overhauled the Golden Flashes' roster, as only junior guards Ed Norvell and Scott Effertz remain from the previous era. And each and every player the program's second-year mentor has added fits the style of play he plans to fully implement this season to perfection.
Golden Flashes' fans, get ready for the modern version of run-and-gun basketball.
"I've recruited these guys to run," said Waters. "If I sit back with this group, we will not be successful. Several teams in the Mid-American Conference play that sit-back, halfcourt style and are very good at it, and we can't compete like that."
And rest assured, the Flashes won't ... no matter what.
"There will be games where we blow teams out and games where we get blown out ourselves," said Waters. "But we will stay with it. Pressure causes a lot of anxiety, it really wears teams down. But we're in great shape. This is a 12-man team and we will play 10 players."
Norvell and Effertz, both starters a year ago, return to anchor the backcourt.
Norvell (6-foot-2, 180) set a new record for assists in a season a year ago with 174 (6.4 assists per game), good for second in the league, and is the team's top returning scorer (11.7 points per game).
"Ed is the most instinctive player to this pressing style," said Waters. "He's been trying to get everyone involved, but when things aren't working, we need him to take over. I told Ed it's time for him to step up and lead this team."
Effertz (6-0, 173), a 4.0 student, started 26 of 27 games a year ago and averaged 7.6 points per game. He's a good 3-point shooter and was also chosen as the team's defensive MVP a year ago.
"Scott works extremely hard and he's just a great player to have," said Waters. "His tenacity helps him in the press."
Norvell and Effertz, along with junior college transfer John Callaway, are the lone upperclassmen on a team that consists of three juniors, five sophomores and four freshmen.
"Scott and Ed _ and especially Ed _ will have to control this group on the floor," said Waters. "They've had some exposure to this style of play, but for the others it's new. And that shows every day in practice."
Kyrem Massey, who sat out last year to get his academics on track, should get the nod at small forward. Massey (6-5, 192) is a tremendous athlete with unlimited potential, but he's shaking off the rust that has gathered after over a year of inactivity.
Inside, 6-9, 240-pound sophomore John Whorton (3.1 ppg, 1.4 rebounds per game in 25 games last year) has solidified his frame, and it's paying off. Whorton has been the most pleasant surprise thus far along with true freshman Mike Perry (6-9, 198), the former Barberton High School standout who will likely start at center according to Waters.
"Whorton and Perry have shown a lot more than I thought they would," said Waters. "Whorton will play back on our press and that's a difficult position to play if you don't have a feel for the style of play. But John has picked it up very quickly. And his mobility has shocked me.
"Perry is a very hard worker. He plays on the ball in the press and we're very pleased with his progress."
Waters' rotation currently consists of eight players. Callaway (6-2, 178) will spell Norvell and Effertz at guard; sophomore Al Moore (6-7, 187) has improved his shooting range and can play either the two or three spot; and 6-6 sophomore Geoff Vaughn (5.0 ppg, 3.7 rpg), an excellent rebounder and jumper who was hindered by a knee injury earlier in camp, will provide depth inside.
"We have eight solid and we'll try to add two more," said Waters. "One player who will help us is (former Stow High School standout) Nate Meers, because of his ability to shoot the basketball."
Jose Davis, the Kent State football team's standout quarterback, is also expected to come out for the team. Davis (6-1, 185) was a standout basketball player at Bellaire High School.
Waters believes his team packs plenty of scoring punch, but developing consistency with his young group is Waters' primary concern.
And he knows it won't happen overnight.
"You really gain in enthusiasm and intensity with a young group, but you can't expect them to pick things up immediately," said Waters. "So our focus this year is on getting better. We're at the stage right now where we're still learning how to play this new style, with a group that mostly doesn't know what it's like to compete at the MAC level.
"Right now, we're flat out not ready to compete in the MAC. But we will continue to improve and, by January, we should be ready."