Men’s basketball looks to build off NCAA Tournament bid

Wooster senior forward Alex Baptiste and Kent State sophomore forward Danny Pippen battle for the ball during an exhibition game in the M.A.C. Center Friday, Nov. 3, 2017.

Cameron Hoover

As Kent State men’s basketball coach Rob Senderoff surveyed his team’s final practice before the start of the season Friday afternoon, he liked what he saw.

“We’ve got great guards that are experienced and versatile,” said Senderoff, whose Flashes won the Mid-American Conference Tournament last season with wins over the three top-seeded teams. “They’re athletic. They can shoot. That guard play is proven. These guys have gotten better in the offseason. But I also think we’ve got some good front court guys that just have to show they can do it over the course of a season.”

Kent State’s season tips off at 9 p.m. Saturday in the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic against Youngstown State at the University of Akron’s James A. Rhodes Arena.

One of the biggest challenges for the team will be dealing with the loss of graduates Jimmy Hall and Deon Edwin. Hall was the Flashes’ leading scorer last season and was voted to the All-MAC first team. Edwin, a MAC All-Defensive team selection, led the team in steals. The two combined to average 32.1 points, 16.1 rebounds, 2.2 steals and 1.8 blocks per game.

“That’s college basketball,” said Senderoff, who is entering his seventh year as coach. “In the pros, you have some guys stay with an organization for their entire career. In college, you have two or three years with guys. It’s a new team each year.”

Junior guard Jalen Avery said the team’s style of play will be different without Hall and Edwin.

“We’ve got to play more as a team,” said Avery, who shot 38 percent from three-point range in 25 starts last season.  “We don’t have Jimmy or Deon, where we could just give it to them and get out of the way. We have to share the ball as much as we can and get the best shot we can each possession.”

Senderoff said much of what will be missed from Hall and Edwin comes off the court. He identified Avery as a player who has stepped into a leadership position.

“I’m comfortable with being a leader,” Avery said. “It’s definitely more responsibility. I have to lead these guys. A lot of guys haven’t played Division I before. I have to be there and lead by example on and off the court.”

Junior center Adonis De La Rosa is a player who will have to step into a bigger role with the absence of Hall.

“He’s always had the ability to score, and now he’s counted on a little bit more,” Senderoff said of the 7-footer. “The biggest thing we’re looking for from (the front court) is consistent defensive rebounding. In practice, we’ve realized Jimmy and Deon were our top two defensive rebounders. That’s got to become a focal point for those guys.”

Junior guard Jaylin Walker enters the season as a member of the preseason All-MAC team. Walker scored 20 points per game in the MAC Tournament to win tournament MVP, including a 30-point outburst in the championship game win over Wagon Wheel rival Akron.

Senderoff expects Walker to grow into a more complete player.

“We’re looking for him to take the next step,” Senderoff said. “Getting some steals, getting some offensive rebounds. To me, his best attribute is how hard he plays. Those box score indicators will show you that. He should be one of the best offensive rebounding guards in the country, and he should be one of our leaders in steals.”

Jerrod Calhoun will be on the bench for his first game as head coach of Youngstown State. Senior guard Cameron Morse, a two-time all-Horizon League selection, returns needing 579 more points for 2,000 on his career. The Penguins went 13-21 last season and were eliminated in the Horizon League Tournament semifinals against Northern Kentucky.

“We’ve been competing against each other for 30 straight days now,” senior guard Desmond Ridenour said. “We’re looking forward to taking it on someone else tomorrow.”

“Our guys are ready,” Senderoff said with a smile. “It’s basketball season.”

Cameron Hoover is a sports reporter. Contact him at [email protected]