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By Allen Moff | Staff Writer
So far during the early stages of his head coaching career, Kent State men's basketball mentor Rob Senderoff has had no luck against best buddies.
Jim Christian, Senderoff's former KSU boss and still best friend, handed his former assistant loss No. 3 in as many meetings since he took over the Ohio program last season on Wednesday. All three games could have went either way, but ultimately went the wrong way for Senderoff.
On Saturday, he'll get another shot at defeating a close friend when his Golden Flashes (9-5, 0-1 Mid-American Conference) meet Ball State (3-9, 0-1) and rookie mentor James Whitford.
Senderoff and Whitford developed a close relationship while they were both graduate assistant coaches at Miami (Ohio), first under current Arizona State head coach Herb Sendek in 1996, then under the late Charlie Coles in 1997.
"Every day for two years we were together," said Senderoff. "We were in the office from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. every day, then we'd go to some local bar from 9 to 12, then we'd do it all again the next day. We were thinking, "'ey, maybe one day we'll be fortunate enough to be in these situations that we're now in.' We've been blessed."
Amazingly, the three full-time assistants on the 1995 Miami staff were Christian, current Ohio State head coach Thad Matta and Sean Miller, who now leads No. 1-ranked Arizona.
Senderoff left Miami to become an assistant coach at Fordham in 1998, while Whitford stayed in Oxford and was Coles' top assistant until moving on to Xavier as an assistant after the 2005 season. They've remained close friends as the years have passed.
"I was in his wedding party, and he was in my wedding party," said Senderoff. "We know each others' families."
Senderoff actually has direct ties to four of the MAC's 12 head coaches when you toss in Eastern Michigan mentor Rob Murphy, who was an assistant at Kent State alongside Senderoff from 2002-04. They were also in each others' weddings.
"It's an interesting dynamic," said Senderoff. "It's unique."
Senderoff would love to further stroll down memory lane, but now's just not the time.
His Flashes have lost three in a row and four of their last five after starting the season 8-1. They've shot under 40 percent in five consecutive contests, and clanked away at a dismal 28-percent clip during Wednesday's 59-53 home loss to Christian's Bobcats -- missing 16 layups and 11 uncontested 3-pointers, according to Senderoff.
"The fact that (Whitford and I) are both head coaches at good Division I schools is something that in March at the Final Four we'll talk about at some point over a beer. But right now, I'm just focused on getting our guys to play the way we're capable of playing," said Senderoff. "They're also struggling, so that's probably his focus too."
The Cardinals have lost eight of their last nine games and are 0-6 on the road, and Kent State has won the past nine meetings against Ball State. Senderoff, though, still sees a dangerous side of the Cardinals, who return four starters from last year's 15-15 squad.
"I know they're record is bad, and I'm not gonna sit here and tell you they're this great team, but right now, everyone looks like the Lakers to me," said Senderoff. "They played Akron very close (lost 72-68 Wednesday), they played Butler very close (59-58 loss). We'll have to play well."
The Cardinals are led by 6-foot-9 senior forward Majok Majok, an All-MAC performer who averages 11.3 points and a conference-best 10.8 rebounds per game. They also have a pair of capable veterans in 6-2 senior guard Jesse Berry (11.3 ppg) and 6-4 senior forward Chris Bond (11.2 points, 5.1 rebounds), and a talented freshman point guard in 5-9 Zavier Turner (12.8 points, 4.1 assists, 45 percent 3-pointers, 4 turnovers).
"They're a great rebounding team, one of the best offensive rebounding teams in the league," said Senderoff. "Majok Majok is one of the best frontcourt players in the conference. We've gotta do a great job creating turnovers. That's been sort of their Achilles heel on the season, they haven't done a great job taking care of the basketball. Some of that is a product of personnel -- they have a freshman point guard -- and some of that may be a product of trying to play a little bit faster than they played last year.
"For us to be successful we have to do a great job creating turnovers and forcing the tempo, which hopefully will lead to some easy baskets for us, which we need."
A few easy hoops could indeed be just what the doctor ordered as the Flashes seek to snap out of their offensive funk. They held a players-only meeting on Thursday, knowing an 0-2 start to the conference season would severely damage their MAC title hopes.
If Senderoff's troops happen to bust loose against good buddy Whitford and Ball State, well so be it.
"Right now, all I'm thinking about is us," said Senderoff. "We need a win."
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