Flashes open season with depth, without stars

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Junior forward Darren Goodson (left) drives down the court against Buffalo last season in the MAC Tournament Quarterfinals on March 14, 2013, at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland. Photo by Shane Flanigan.

Nick Shook

Kent State’s men’s basketball opens its 2013-14 season at 7 p.m. Friday against Division III opponent Ohio Northern at the M.A.C Center. Unlike seasons past, this Flashes team lacks star power — which may turn out to be its greatest advantage.

Coming off a 21-14 (9-7 Mid-American Conference) season in 2012-13, the Flashes begin the new campaign without departed seniors Randal Holt and Chris Evans, who shouldered the majority of the offensive load last season. Instead, Kent State will rely on a good amount of its roster to contribute on a nightly basis.

“I think we have more depth and not as much separation, at least right now, not as much separation three through 12 as we had last year,” Flashes head coach Rob Senderoff said. “But maybe not quite as much dominance in one and two as we did last year.”

In the place of Evans steps Devareaux Manley, former reserve and current junior forward. Once a sporadically used 3-point shooter, Manley will begin the season as the Flashes’ starting small forward. However, Senderoff doesn’t expect Manley to replicate the statistics of Evans, who, at times, wowed fans and YouTube viewers alike with his acrobatic dunks and sheer athleticism.

“(Evans) was 6-6 and as athletic as anybody in the country,” Senderoff said. “I don’t think we have anybody quite like that. He’s a unique player to have. But I do think we can take up the scoring slack left by him and Randal with a bunch of guys. I doubt we’ll have anybody average that amount of points as much as I think we’ll have more guys average closer to 10 and in that neighborhood.”

Along with Manley, new arrival Derek Jackson will immediately step into the starting lineup on opening night as the Flashes’ starting two-guard, replacing one of Kent State’s greatest 3-point shooters in history in Holt. The transfer from Central Michigan, who averaged 11.5 points and 2.3 rebounds per game as a Chippewa, will be expected to contribute similar numbers to the group.

Redshirt sophomore K.K. Simmons will step into the role vacated by Manley, and might even raise the bar set by Manley as a precise perimeter shooter.

“I think K.K. Simmons is more than capable on a given night of having 20-plus (points) along with some other guys,” Senderoff said. “Devin Carter as well, to where, OK, they can do that one night, and maybe the next night, it’s somebody else that scores more as opposed to it just being Randal and Chris night in and night out.”

Carter, the other newcomer expected to have an effect almost immediately, could combine with Manley to help fill the hole left by Evans, who was also a rather impressive rebounder on both ends of the floor.

“Scorer by nature,” Senderoff said of Carter. “Can shoot the ball well, can score in bunches. He’s long; he can go offensive rebound. He’s another guy that we’re going to need some production out of him on the offensive end for sure.”

Kent State has the unique advantage of a bench that is surprisingly deep with experience, as reserve guard Kellon Thomas averaged 12.5 minutes per game last season. Reserve forward Chris Ortiz saw substantial playing time early in 2012 before breaking his foot in a win at Youngstown State.

Sophomore Khaliq Spicer saw most of his minutes during garbage time in victories, but Senderoff said he expects big improvements from the 6-foot-9 forward.

The Flashes return all five members of last season’s rotation down in the post. Senior forward Mark Henniger, the most experienced of the bunch, will resume his starting spot.

Senior forward Darren Goodson, who began to excel in the latter portion of the 2012-13 season after struggling early, will start alongside Henniger. Goodson averaged 8.4 points and 3.8 rebounds per game but surprisingly became the team’s catalyst, scoring a career-high 19 points in the Flashes’ 68-64 win at Akron on March 8.

“I have all five guys who were here last year in the frontcourt,” Senderoff said. “Each one is a year older and, hopefully, a year better. Four of those five guys, it was their first year in the program. Having gone through an offseason, preseason and a season, I would expect more production out of that group.”

After Ohio Northern, Kent State hits the road for games at Temple and Seton Hall before returning home for seven straight contests. The Flashes fell to Temple 80-66 at home last season, but a strong start could bode very well for a squad still trying to get comfortable playing with one another. Above all, Senderoff hopes the Flashes’ faithful will turn out in droves to support his team.

“My one thing would be, we play better when there’s more people here,” Senderoff said. “Last year, we lost a game to Valparaiso here at home … when you have a big crowd here, they can help elevate your play a couple points, they can make a difference. I hope the students will come out during the time we’re in school, and hopefully the local community will support the program.”

Contact Nick Shook at [email protected].