KSU completes season of firsts

By Allen Moff Record-Courier staff writer Published:

A school-record 24 wins, a first-ever Mid-American Conference regular-season championship, a MAC Tournament title, a rousing victory over Indiana in the NCAA Tournament.

Hard to believe the 2000-01 campaign was once expected to be a transitional year of sorts for the Kent State men's basketball team.

"This was definitely an overachieving effort by this group," said coach Gary Waters, whose fifth group of Golden Flashes finished 24-10 and captured the MAC East Division crown. "There were limitations to the things they were able to do in certain key areas that opponents knew they could exploit, and they overcame all of those limitations.

"To accomplish what this group did without a big body to defend the post, without a big-time scorer inside, and with a small team that struggled in the rebounding area, that's truly phenomenal."

Kent State recorded the most impressive triumph in school history by neutralizing the Hoosiers' interior strength in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, but couldn't pull off a similar feat in the second round against an even bigger and stronger Cincinnati squad.

"Looking back, that was a lot to ask out of our guys," said Waters. "What I've learned at the NCAA Tournament is that a mid-level team like ours needs an upset to advance to the 'Sweet 16.' This year Gonzaga made it by beating Indiana State, which upset Oklahoma in the first round. We made it to the Sweet 16 when I was an assistant at Eastern Michigan only because Penn State upset a UCLA team that was one of the best in the country at the time in the first round, then we beat Penn State.

"Things really have to fall into place for you. But our guys are still angry about the Cincinnati game, because they don't feel they played their best game. They've been telling me, 'schedule them next year, coach.' "

Next year is actually the season Waters and company have been pointing toward.

The Flashes will have their largest senior nucleus ever under Waters in 2001-02, a prime time battle-tested group that features backcourt mates Trevor Huffman and Andrew Mitchell, swingmen Demetric Shaw and Eric Thomas and center Mike Perry.

"Mitchell, Thomas and Perry were part of our foundation class, the one we thought would solidify the program. And that's what has happened," said Waters. "Then we added Trevor and Shaw, and together that's an impressive group. But we still need help inside.

"I owe it to my seniors to find them a big man."

Waters has already signed Nate Gerwig, a burly 6-foot-9, 250-pound recruit from Schenley High School in Pittsburgh who is expected to contribute to Kent State's cause as a freshman.

"Gerwig can help us, but he'll still just be a freshman," said Waters. "You never want to rely too heavily on freshmen. We'd like to get a player in here next year with some experience, possibly a junior college player."

Waters also expects 7-foot project John Edwards to blossom as a sophomore.

"John got a taste of what it's all about this year, and he's going to play more next year," said Waters. "We're going to send him to camps and place him in a tough league this summer. We need him to become the presence inside that he has the potential to be."

Kent State will also have freshmen letterwinners Eric Haut and Bryan Bedford returning next year along with junior college transfer Anthony Wilkins, a 6-7 athletic specimen at shooting guard who will provide backcourt size Waters' previous clubs have sorely lacked.

"We'll have some new faces, but we'll have a sizable group of veterans in place to provide leadership," said Waters. "This team has tremendous potential, if we can add some strength inside to what we have returning."

The only question is, will Waters return?

Michigan will almost assuredly interview the Detroit native before choosing its next head coach if Rick Pitino turns down the offer, although sources indicate that Xavier's Skip Prosser and Seton Hall's Tommy Amaker are currently considered the Wolverines' other top candidates.

Fellow Big Ten schools Wisconsin and Indiana may also consider Waters, and other openings will also become available as these and other vacancies are filled. But Waters continues to insist he's completely content at Kent State.

"Unless they contact me, I'm not worrying about any jobs but the one I have," said Waters.

One intangible that may keep Waters in Kent is the tight bond he's formed with his soon-to-be seniors.

"That group is close to my heart. They're like my family members," said Waters. "I've already seen this group through a lot, and now I want to see Andrew and (Thomas) graduate. That's what I brought them here for.

"We also still have a lot to accomplish on the court. We want to win the (overall) MAC regular-season championship and advance to the 'Sweet 16.' I have one more year with that group, and I want to see this thing through."

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E-mail: amoff@recordpub.net

Phone: (330) 678-5460

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