Kent State men's getting the last laugh

By Allen Moff Record-Courier staff writer Published:

After shooting up enemy gymnasiums throughout Summit and Portage counties for three solid seasons from 1994-96, Nate Meers' Stow High School basketball career came to a close.

But few Division I-A college doors swung open besides one in his very own backyard, the door to the local school his buddies berated back then.

"People couldn't believe I'd lower myself and go to Kent just to play Division I-A basketball," said Meers. "I told them I believed in coach (Gary) Waters and I was going there to play for a winning team, and a lot of people laughed.

"Even some of my old teammates at Stow were laughing at me."

Well, guess who's laughing now?

"Now, we're going to the NCAA Tournament," said Meers, with a slight giggle that just couldn't be held back. "It's a great feeling."

Now, the Golden Flashes are preparing to play the first NCAA Tournament game in school history Friday afternoon against Temple at the FleetCenter in Boston.

Now, all the laughter has subsided.

Now, some folks were probably chuckling during the 1996-97 campaign, a season that never was for Meers. The NCAA slapped the partial-qualifier label on him, which meant he could practice but wasn't allowed to play in actual games for the entire season.

"There was a question about whether a class Nate passed in high school should count toward the credit requirement freshmen need to be eligible," said Waters. "They ruled against Nate, but they were wrong. The good news is he will get a fifth year of eligibility, so he'll be able to play two more years.

"And actually, sitting out a year was the best thing that could have ever happened to Nate. He needed a year to practice and learn what going to school and playing college basketball was all about."

Snickers likely filled the air when Meers first donned the blue and gold back in November of '97 ... at least until he began canning 3-point bombs at an alarming rate, and the Flashes started winning.

"A lot of people had questions about Nate, but the kid can flat-out shoot," said Waters. "He's not tremendously athletic or quick. But you just can't teach a player to shoot like Nate."

Meers became Kent State's newfound hired gun the moment he first set foot on the floor. And he hasn't stopped shooting since.

After draining a highly respectable 41 percent of his 3-pointers as a rookie last year, the Stow sharpshooter improved to a Mid-American Conference-leading 43 percent this season (60-of-139).

He's been known to go on breathtaking binges, just as Meers did at Ohio when he drained seven 3-pointers to help Kent State earn a crucial regular-season victory over the Bobcats.

"As long as he's in the game, teams have to pay attention to him," said Waters. "That makes him effective even when he's not hitting his shot, because he still draws defenders away from the basket and opens things up for us inside.

"That's been a key for us all year. And that'll be a big key for us against Temple's zone defense."

Thanks to the dubious No. 11 seed the MAC Tournament champion Flashes (23-6) were awarded, they get to face the Owls' patented matchup zone, which sends shivers down the spines of college basketball coaches and players throughout the country.

But Meers, for one, isn't complaining.

"I thought after beating Miami in the championship game and two out of three times overall we'd get a higher seed, but that's all right," said Meers. "We're still going there to win a game. We're seeded 11th, and we get to face a Temple team that's very beatable."

Temple very beatable? Sounds almost funny.

But we better not laugh.

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