Men's Basketball Season Preview
Kent State basketball fans will need a game program to identify
all the new faces in the program this winter. Yet even with
the departure of six seniors and over 60 percent of the offensive
production, the cupboard is far from empty for third-year Head
Coach Geno Ford.
Coming off their second Mid-American Conference title in three years, the Golden Flashes have more than reloaded with the influx of eight newcomers and redshirts. The eight fresh faces to the line-up give Kent State plenty of athleticism and provide the program with more than enough firepower to defend its conference crown, a feat that no MAC team has accomplished in over 20 years.
"This is highest number of first-year players we've had in a long time so it's a combination of concern, excitement and optimism for the coaching staff," said Ford. "They are a really talented collection of athletes with some size and skill that we know can play as individuals. The challenge for us is blending it all together as one team which hopefully doesn't take too long."
While the newcomers take time to gel and adjust to Coach Ford's style of play at the start of the year, the KSU staff will turn to the veteran leadership of Rodriquez Sherman and Justin Greene.
"Justin and Rod are two of our better players and they've also been here the longest," said Ford. "We need them to lead by example in terms of production and practice habits as well as lead vocally to get the other guys to follow what they need to be doing on and off the court. Its going to be an adjustment since neither one has been in that role before."
The lone senior on the team this winter, Sherman had a coming-of-age year last season after missing all of 2008-09 with a knee injury. Fully recovered, he progressed into one of the most dynamic and electrifying players in the league. A 6'2" guard, Sherman was already the Golden Flashes top defender, but after a year off-season individual workouts he reshaped his offensive game. A career 5.5 points per game scorer his first two seasons, the Indianapolis, Ind. native produced 10.6 ppg last year. In addition to logging the most minutes on the team, he added 4.0 rebounds while ranking among the league leaders in both steals (8th, 1.6 spg) and assists (15th, 3.0 apg).
Greene on the other hand was the most improved player in the nation last year and enters the 2010-11 campaign as one of the leading candidates for MAC Player of the Year. To say the 6'8" junior forward had a breakthrough sophomore year would be an understatement. With averages of 13.6 points and 6.9 rebounds, both team highs, along with 1.3 assists, Greene was the only player in the country to increase his 2009-10 production by more than 10 points (+11.4 ppg), five rebounds (+5.0 rpg) and a full assist (+1.1 pg) from the previous year. The Second Team All-MAC and NABC District 14 selection is the third leading returning scorer and rebound in the conference.
"We feel really good about the perimeter. It's the most athletic; best defensive group of guards we've had here in a while," said Ford. "It will be key for us to learn how to play together offensivly as a unit."
Along with Sherman, sophomore Randal Holt returns to the backcourt. A 6'1" point guard, Holt averaged 3.9 points and 1.4 assists while playing nearly 15 minutes a game as a rookie last season. A victim of two knee surgeries in as many years, Holt is expected to hit the ground running at 100 percent and push for time in the starting line-up at the point guard position.
Newcomer Michael Porrini might be a new to the Kent State program, but is well familiar with Northeast Ohio. After attending high school at near by Massillon-Washington, the highly touted 6'2" point guard played 16 games for Western Carolina as a collegiate freshman. With the Catamounts, Porrini produced 11.3 points, 5.2 rebounds, 3.3 assists and 1.9 steals per game. Coming out of high school he was rated the fourth-best point guard in Ohio and the 15th-best prospect in the state. Porrini capped off a well-decorated prep career earning Third-Team All-Ohio honors in the state's largest division as a senior.
Kent State also welcomes a pair Chicago area natives Carlton Guyton and Eric Gaines into the backcourt rotation. A 6'4" multidimensional guard, Guyton will be a junior for the Golden Flashes this year. This past season he averaged 15.0 points, 5.1 rebounds, 3.7 assists and 1.3 steals per game for Mineral Area College in Missouri. Along the way he earned all-conference and all-region honors while leading his team to a 20-12 record and a NJCAA Regional XVI semifinal appearance.
Gaines, who will be a freshman for KSU, took his Hillcrest High School team to an Illinois 3A state championship this year after scoring 18 points, including a pair of go-ahead free throws with 29 seconds left in the championship game. Another versatile multidimensional 6'4" guard, Gaines averaged 14.8 points, 4.0 rebounds and 3.9 assists an outing as a high school senior while leading the team to a 31-3 record.
Robert 'Scooter' Johnson and Brian Frank might be a couple of fresh faces to the line-up, but are no strangers to the KSU program.
A former high school teammate of Holt, Johnson joined the KSU program last season after averaging 20.3 points, 10.6 rebounds as a senior for Bedford High School in Cleveland. A 6'6" point forward, he also chipped in 4.0 assists per game and earned special mention all-state honors. After sitting out last year he continued to develop his game and will still have four years of eligibility remaining when he takes the court this winter.
A Florida native, Frank averaged 15.3 points and 5.3 rebounds as a senior for Buchholz High School. The 6'5" guard / forward combo also attended IMG Academy and the College of Wooster before he joined the Golden Flashes as a walk-on last season. After sitting out 2009-10 due to NCAA transfer rules, he will be a sophomore this season for KSU.
"There is plenty of reason to be excited about the collection of players we have in the backcourt and we feel it could be a real strength of our team by the time the MAC rolls around," said Ford.
As with the backcourt, the frontcourt will feature a line-up full of new faces.
"As out leading scorer, rebounder and shot blocker Justin (Greene) is the anchor of our post players," said Ford of the preseason All-MAC selection. "It is going to be important that he can improve on breakout season last year and not just be similar."
Besides Greene, junior Alex Grimsley is the only other returning post player on the Golden Flashes roster. A constant worker under the boards, Grimsley is poised for an increased role after playing in 31 games over the past two seasons.
Golden Flash fans eagerly welcome the debut of 6'11" center Justin Manns. An athletic post presence that can get up and down the floor, Manns signed with KSU in 2009 after spending the previous two seasons at Owens Community College (Ohio). Having played just three years of organized basketball before coming to Kent State, he took a redshirt in 2009-10 and will have two years of eligibility left. In his final year for Owens Manns averaged 8.9 points and 8.3 rebounds per game while ranking second in NJCAA Region 12 with 2.7 blocks a contest.
The rest of the Golden Flashes frontcourt consists of newcomers DeAndre Nealy, Mark Henniger and Darius Leonard.
Nealy is the elder statesman among the trio having played two-years for Mott Junior College [Mich.]. A tremendous shot blocker and active rebounder, the 6'6" forward capped off a well-decorated 2008-09 season by earning NJCAA All-American Honors. In addition, Rivals.com ranked him the No. 26 junior college recruit in the country. Nealy closed out the year averaging over 15 points and eight rebounds while leading all levels of college basketball with an astounding 7.6 blocks per game.
A product of Detroit Central High School, which also produced former KSU All-American Antonio Gates, Nealy averaged 16 points in 2008 and helped lead Mott to a 35-2 record and the NJCAA National Championship, where was named all-tournament MVP as a freshman.
Henniger is local product from nearby Massillon-Jackson High School. A 6'8" forward/center he averaged over 20 points and eight rebounds a game the last two seasons. As a senior he led his team to a state title scoring 21 points and grabbing 12 rebound in the championship game. One of just five players to earn Division I first team all-state honors, Henniger wrapped-up his high school career racking up 1,552 points, 616 rebounds and 209 blocks while shooting 63.1 percent from the field.
A stretch four-man with good range, Leonard signed with Kent State this spring. He joins the Golden Flashes program from Kestrel Heights High School where the Charlotte Observer rated him the 35th best senior in the state of North Carolina. Ranked the 118th best power forward in the country by ESPN.com, Leonard averaged 16 points and 11 rebounds per game while leading his team to a 37-7 record.
"We are going to have all the first year guys step up and become contributors right away, said Ford. "We need for another starter to emerge as well as two or three guys to come off the bench. There are a lot of question marks as we start preseason practice, but we like the talent overall of the group. It is a good combination of size, skill, athleticism and some shot blocking ability, which we have not had the past few seasons. There are going to be a lot of great battles for playing time amongst the group."
The Golden Flashes roster will also consist of Rutgers transfer Patrick Jackson. Due to NCAA transfer rules he is required to sit out this coming season before being eligible to play for KSU in 2011-12. The 6'6" forward led the Scarlet Knights in scoring during its 2009 summer tour of Spain and the Canary Islands, averaging 13.8 points and 7.3 rebounds in four victories against foreign club teams. As a sophomore in 2009-10 he played in all 32 games for Rutgers making 15 starts while averaging 2.4 points and 1.6 rebounds. A product of Boys and Girls High School in Brooklyn, Jackson was rated the nation's 28th best small forward recruit for 2008 by ESPN. As a senior the NYSSWA All-State honoree averaged 19.6 points and 8.9 rebounds per game for BGHS under head coach Ruth Lovelace. Jackson played for Xaverian High School as a junior where he earned CHSAA All-Class AA accolades with averages of 15.2 points, eight rebounds and three assists.
The season gets under way in less than a month with three games in three days at the World Vision Classic, which runs from Nov. 12-14 at Cleveland State. Just two days later the Golden Flashes will host Robert Morris at the M.A.C. Center on Nov. 16. Tip-off time is at 8:00 a.m. for the game, which will be televised live on ESPN as part of the network's third annual College Hoops Tip-Off Marathon.
"It is going to be tough for us to play well over all four games, said Ford. "If we can find a way to survive that gauntlet and come out a little more seasoned and tougher as a unit its going to pay dividends us by the time we get to the meat of our schedule."
Follow the action live all season long on WNIR 100.1 FM, the official home of Kent State basketball.