Men’s basketball strives for team chemistry in preseason

Dana Miller

Kent State’s men’s basketball is looking to continue building a strong team chemistry, as nine new players debut on the 2016-2017 roster.

Walk-on Jon Fleming, a senior communication studies major, is in his last year on the team playing as a guard.

“(It’s) the newest team since I’ve been here,” Fleming said. “It’s actually molded together pretty well, nothing forced.”

Head coach Rob Senderoff said college athletics, in particular, is a senior-driven sport. And with such a fresh lineup this year, the game can be a challenge.

“The ones that have been there for four years, those guys understand those traditions, what we’re trying to accomplish and the system,” Senderoff said. ”Along with playing well, they have to mentor some of the new guys.”

At the Cleveland Cavalier’s Media Day on Sept. 26, small forward Richard Jefferson said feeding off of his teammates is what keeps the unity together.

“LeBron is the ultimate team camaraderie guy,” Jefferson said. “We did our mini-camp in Santa Barbara this past week, we ate together, we hang out together, we worked out together a couple times a day. That’s just something that we need to continue.”

Senderoff said the new recruits and existing players do the same and come early to campus each summer for eight weeks to work on all of these team skills.

“We work out for two hours a week with our strength coach,” Senderoff said. “We then get a little break in August (and) come back for September. We have four weeks right now that we are finishing our conditioning.”

During the summer, Senderoff met with all of the senior players once a week for a leadership type of “academy.”

“Each week we’ll read, whether it’s a book by an NBA player or an article,” Senderoff said. “We had a former player who wrote a book on his experience in the Elite Eight. So, we’ll try to get some meaning out of it.”

Off of the court, Senderoff said, every year, for the past 15 years, the Flashes play a big softball game with players versus coaches. They also take team bowling trips.

“We really try our best to have a bond with our team that’s beyond just two or three hours a day that we are on the court,” Senderoff said.

Fleming said the biggest thing when recruits get to campus in the summer, is just helping them out.

“It’s pretty much only us up here, which creates an atmosphere where you can only hang out with us,” Fleming said. “(We) show them where to eat, invite them to stuff — it’s usually easier than you think. Everybody that plays basketball has some type of similarities.”

If Fleming isn’t active on the court during a game, he said he still makes a point to help his teammates by watching a lot of game film to understand plays.

“I feel like my knowledge of the game is pretty high,” Fleming said. “I help (redshirt-senior) Jimmy Hall a lot. He’s a great player, and they send so much different stuff at him.”

Fleming added that when Hall is playing, it’s hard for him on the court to see. But when Hall’s on the bench, Fleming can have a wider vantage point and suggest plays.

“(Hall’s) the one I work with the most. He’s been here all four of my years,” Fleming said. “We’ve built a relationship where we’ll listen, but I’ll help anybody.”

For the team as a whole, Fleming said their signature chant — a tradition with the team — hypes up not only his teammates but the fans as well.

“That’s probably the biggest ‘team chemistry’ thing,” Fleming said. “You’d be surprised — when we go on the road — how many people like that. When we went to Kansas, all of their fans stopped and watched us.”

The chant – which can be long and tiring – is something that excites them, and they keep within the team, Fleming added.

“You kind of got to be in it to know it, but it’s our biggest thing,” Fleming said.

With basketball being a team sport, communication plays a large role in the success of games, Fleming said.

“It only takes one guy to be selfish to lose a game,” he said. “Not only the five people on the court, but whoever is on the bench — talking to them in timeouts and telling them where to be — it’s big.”

Senderoff said the goal each year is going to be the same — winning the Mid-American Conference championship and going to the NCAA tournament.

“Over my five years here, we’ve won 100 games, 20 games per season,” Senderoff said. “So, our goal is to reach that 20-win plateau to start.”

In February, when the Flashes were first place in the Mid-American Conference, Senderoff said two injuries occurred on the team.

“We sort of struggled down the stretch of that season,” he said. “It’s going to be really important that when we do face some adversity. We find a way to overcome that. That’s going to be on all of us, our whole staff and players.”

Though there are things that can be improved on, Senderoff said, and they have a group that can do it.

“Obviously you need talent, but you also need that tremendous chemistry,” Senderoff said.

Dana Miller is the diversity editor, contact her at [email protected]