The Kent State men's basketball team held a meeting of sorts on Monday afternoon for true believers only.
Just those brazen souls that actually thought the Golden Flashes had a prayer of playing for a Mid-American Conference championship in their 1998-99 regular-season finale were in attendance.
In other words, it was players and coaches only.
It was time for practice.
"No one thought we'd be here but ourselves," said junior center John Whorton. "But we've had this in our minds all year long."
"Here" will be Millett Hall in Oxford Wednesday night at 7 p.m., when the Golden Flashes (20-5, 13-4 MAC) will battle Miami of Ohio (19-6, 14-3) for a share of the MAC title and the No. 1 seed in the upcoming MAC Tournament.
That's the same Golden Flashes who were picked to finish a whole heck of a lot closer to last this season (sixth in the East Division) than first.
"This is one of the biggest things to happen at Kent in many years," said coach Gary Waters, who has the Flashes one win from the school's first-ever conference title in just his third year at the helm. "No one expected much of us. No one expected us to beat Akron twice. Not one person picked us to win at Ohio last Saturday.
"It's been us against the world every game for this team, and that's the way these kids like it."
And it'll be the Flashes against the world again on Wednesday. 'Wally World,' to be exact.
Senior forward Wally Szczerbiak, the MAC's leading scorer (24 ppg) and second-leading rebounder (8.6 rpg), will be looking to put on a really big show for the projected sellout crowd of over 10,000 on Senior Day.
"You've got WallyWorld, the big crowd, Senior Day, the whole shebang," said Kent senior swingman Ed Norvell. "This is going to be a tough one."
The two teams appear to be headed in opposite directions. Miami dropped out of the Top 25 after losing on the road against Toledo and Bowling Green last week, while the Flashes received their first vote in the USA Today and AP polls after earning their seventh straight victory on Saturday.
But Waters doesn't see it that way.
"Actually we don't have much going for us at all," he said. "They've lost two in a row, but they're still a great team that you'd expect to bounce back real strong at home. And we beat them earlier this year (68-62 in Kent). So you know they're going to come out fired up.
"The key for us is to weather their early storm. And we have to do that with defense."
To harness the RedHawks, the Flashes will need to keep Szczerbiak under control while slapping the shackles on his teammates, which have collectively struggled of late.
They'll also have to keep their emotions in check, no matter what might happen.
No problem, says Whorton.
"All games are the same. Either you go out and perform, or you don't and get beat," said Whorton. "We have to treat this as just another game. There's nothing their crowd can throw at us that we haven't dealt with before. We'll be prepared for anything, and we just have to go out and execute.
"Don't get me wrong. This is a big game, and I'm excited. But there's no reason to show it until after the game."
Notes: If the Flashes defeat Miami, they will host Ball State on Saturday. If they lose, and if Toledo wins at Northern Illinois as expected, Kent will host the loser of Wednesday's Bowling Green-Marshall game as the No. 2 seed.
The Kent State women's basketball team (19-6, 13-2) can clinch a share of the MAC regular-season championship along with Toledo tonight by doing something the Rockets themselves couldn't do.
Win at Central Michigan (11-14, 7-8).
"Central upset Toledo at home this year, so that tells you how tough it is to win up there," said Kent coach Bob Lindsay.
But Lindsay's squad has earned its share of tough wins lately. The Flashes have won nine games in a row, including four on the road, and are fresh off a thrilling 69-68 upset victory over the 25th-ranked Rockets that put them in position to claim their second MAC regular season title in a row and third in the last four years.
"If you'd have told me we'd be able to beat Toledo without seniors Alana Bader (injured) and Julie Kempf (mononucleosis), I'd have said that's a bit of a stretch," said Lindsay. "Especially with all the young kids we have. Sharing a conference championship would be a tremendous accomplishment for this team."