Team not worried about pressure of past seasons

Chris Gates

Flashes carry a large target

READ how a few sports analysts think each Flashes player will fare this season.

Just six other programs have set the bar for consistency as high as Kent State men’s basketball has in the last decade.

The Flashes are joined by Kansas, Duke, Gonzaga, Florida, Syracuse and Creighton as the only programs to register 20 wins every year for the past 10.

But this team has more than just a streak to continue.

Kent State has been the controller in the Mid-American Conference since 1998, with a 132-44 conference record. It also has five NCAA Tournament appearances and three outright MAC titles in that span.

And last year the Flashes earned the program’s first-ever national ranking, No. 23 in the Associated Press Poll, and highest-ever NCAA Tournament seed, No. 9 in the Midwest Region.

The success has made the Flashes the team to beat in the MAC on a yearly basis. It has continued into this season, as the Flashes were picked to win the MAC East in the conference’s preseason poll. Players aren’t worried, though, because they say the fact that opponents circle the Kent State game on the schedule every year helps them perform at their best.

“Knowing teams are going to come after you, it makes you bring your ‘A’ game every game,” senior guard Al Fisher said. “You can’t take a day off because you never know what could happen that day.

“I know we’re going to have a target on our back, but we’ve got a lot more people that can do things this year.”

First-year coach Geno Ford isn’t worried about living up to the program’s history and said the most important thing is to concentrate on how the team develops as the season


“How we start the year is not a concern,” Ford said. “I mean, obviously you want to win them all, but with a young team, we just have to be really good

in January.

“These guys are going to get thrown into the fire. It’s not like they’re getting a bunch of easy (games) early to get confidence. They’re going to have to play through adversity.”

The Flashes will start the year with a non-conference schedule that Ford said is designed to allow the possibility of an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament. Illinois, Kansas and St. Mary’s, along with a possible matchup against Texas A&M, will all offer prime chances to boost the team’s Ratings Percentage

Index ranking.

Even after losing last season’s senior leadership of forwards Mike Scott and Haminn Quaintance, the team is confident in its ability to make it to the NCAA Tournament field of 65 teams in March.

“We know what it takes to get there, and so that’s what we’re going to do,” Fisher said. “We’re going to work as hard as we can and do everything it takes to get there. Then you know what you’ve got to do to win, and hopefully we go a little further this year.”

Because Ford was on the staff as an assistant last year, the team is confident in him as well. He runs a similar style of play to former coach Jim Christian, allowing the players to fit into familiar roles.

“(Ford and Christian) run around the same system,” Fisher said. “Geno’s been around coach Christian while he was coaching, so he kept the same system and added a few things – like we may run a

little more.

“But it’s basically the same system, and we know what’s expected from him. We’re just going to play for him and do what we do.”

What the Flashes have done is win on a consistent basis, and that is the only expectation going into the year. Just as the system has remained similar, so have the players’ ambitions.

“We’ve always had the same goal: Win the MAC regular season,” senior forward Julian Sullinger said. “Also, (we want to) win the MAC Tournament (and) get a chance to play in the NCAA Tournament, and then (in) the NCAA Tournament do whatever we’ve got to do

from there.”

Sullinger and senior guard Jordan Mincy have been with the program for four years and don’t want the 20-win streak, or any of the success for that matter, to end in their final year.

With that being said, Ford has stressed to all the seniors – Mincy, Sullinger, Fisher and forward Rashad Woods – that they must take advantage of their final seasons at Kent State.

“All those guys understand that they’re seniors now, and when you’re a senior this is it. It’s all you have,” Ford said. “It seems like you have forever to play and then you roll in to your senior year, six months go by, it’s March and it’s over.

“Those guys all want to go out on a good note.”

Contact sports reporter Chris Gates at [email protected].