Last year's shocking run to 23 wins, the

By Allen Moff Record-Courier staff writer Published:

Last year's shocking run to 23 wins, the Mid-American Conference Tournament title and into the NCAA tourney was a tremendous experience for one and all, but the Golden Flashes realize they can't live off that success forever.

And they don't plan to.

"Last year is last year, it's in the past," said senior center John Whorton, who will lead Kent into its hotly-anticipated 1999-2000 season opener tonight at the MAC Center against Youngstown State. "It was great but now it's over, and we still have a lot to prove. People across the country still doubt us, people in our own school still doubt us.

"But that's okay. That's what we thrive on."

The 'us against the world' mentality drove coach Gary Waters' Flashes to heights no one outside their own locker room believed they could reach a year ago.

"Last year we knew we were a much better team than everyone else thought we were, and we proved it," said Kent's fourth-year mentor. "Now the challenge is to stay on top and move on to the next level. One of the toughest things about repeating is understanding you have to work even harder to do it, because you're not going to sneak up on anybody anymore."

Yes indeed, Kent's prohibitive underdog days are over.

Expectations are high as ever for the 1999-2000 Flashes, who are missing only two players _ defensive stopper and emotional leader Ed Norvell and John Callaway _ from last year's 23-7 squad.

Junior point guard Andrew Mitchell (8.7 points per game last season) and junior forward Kyrem Massey (11 points, 5.6 rebounds) return to the starting lineup along with Whorton, while seven other letterwinners are also back.

Whorton, a preseason All-MAC pick who averaged a team-high 12.8 points and 6.2 rebounds per game a year ago, has recovered fully from offseason shoulder surgery.

"I played in a lot of pain," said Whorton, whose shoulder popped out of socket several times during the final month of the season. "But now it's actually stronger than my other shoulder. It's healed, and I'm ready to go."

Kent's bench _ one of the deepest in the entire country _ returns in tact while transfers Demetric Shaw (Tulane) and Blake Johnson (Jamestown Community College) have been added to the mix along with sophomore forward Mike Perry, who missed all of last season due to a foot injury.

"We'll actually have more depth this year than we had last year, and that was a very deep team," said Waters. "We have at least 10 guys we can start at any time."

Waters' teams of yesterday and today are highly similar on paper, since the faces are basically the same. But in reality, the squads are much different according to Waters.

"Last year's team beat you with defense," he said. "This year we have the potential to be as good and even better than we were last year defensively, although we're not there yet.

"But this team is twice as good offensively as last year's team. Points won't be a problem."

Kent's roster is indeed packed with scoring punch.

The left-handed Shaw, a staunch defender who can also score inside and out, is expected to move into the starting lineup at shooting guard.

"No one plays harder than Shaw," said Waters.

Kent's fifth starter, junior Eric Thomas, is a tremendous athlete who is expected to emerge as a scorer at small forward after getting his feet wet a year ago.

The Flashes' most versatile offensive threat will begin the season coming off the bench. Sophomore guard Trevor Huffman, who averaged nine points per game as a true freshman a year ago, can score from anywhere on the floor by sticking the 3-pointer, penetrating, or pulling up in traffic.

"Bringing a player like Trevor off the bench gives us a weapon few teams can match," said Waters. "As of now that's what I'll do, but that could change depending on matchups."

Waters has a slew of other weapons at his disposal.

If he needs shooters he has senior Nate Meers (8.1 ppg), who shot a MAC-best 42.6 percent from 3-point range a year ago, and Johnson.

If he needs rebounding and strength inside, he can turn to junior forward/center Rashaun Warren or senior Geoffrey Vaughn.

If the Flashes need a burst of energy he'll point to the ever exuberant Perry, a tenacious defender. If the situation requires a battle-tested veteran, he'll insert senior forward Al Moore.

"It's going to be hard for me to get playing time for everyone," said Waters.

The majority of coaches across the nation only wish they could feel Waters' pain.

However, Waters and his troops will have to deal with a vastly increased amount of pressure and scrutiny this season, which lesser teams have been known to succumb to in the past.

But that won't be a problem at Kent according to Whorton.

"The pressure we put on ourselves is so high that we don't even pay attention to the outsiders," he said. "We'll just do our thing, what we do best, and that's play harder than anyone else. That's our forte. That's what has made us successful, and that's why we'll be successful again this year."

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