Flashes and Zips: Rivals on the court

Doug Gulasy

Despite the intensity on the court, the coaches in the Kent State-Akron rivalry have nothing but love for each other

Kent State University Golden Flashes’ senior forward Haminn Quaintance attempts a layup in the first half of the Golden Flashes 75-69 defeat of the Akron Zips on Jan. 23. DANIEL OWEN | DAILY KENT STATER

Credit: DKS Editors

Their teams are bitter rivals from schools 14 miles apart that are competing for a division title.

You’d think, then, that Kent State men’s basketball coach Jim Christian and Akron coach Keith Dambrot would be bitter rivals too.

You’d be wrong.

“I think that both Keith and (former Akron coach) Dan (Hipsher) are obviously great coaches, but more importantly they’re good guys. They’re good people,” Christian said. “(Akron vs. Kent State) is a very important rivalry, one that’s very significant. But at the same time, I like to be around good people and I respect both those guys as people – they’re friends.”

The Flashes (24-6, 12-3 Mid-American Conference) and Zips will play for the second time this season Sunday night at James A. Rhodes Arena in Akron.

If the game is anything like the first meeting this season, a 75-69 Flashes victory Jan. 23, or just about any other Kent State-Akron game, fans can expect an intense performance from both teams.

“The game at home was crazy; it was intense,” junior guard Al Fisher said. “The crowd was into it. Akron was into it. We knew it wasn’t going to be an easy game. Going into Akron and playing – we know it’s definitely going to be harder being at their house and having their fans behind them.”

While the Zips and Flashes are major geographic and competitive rivals, there is an undercurrent of respect between the two programs.

Dambrot said before the first game that he hoped to model his program after Kent State, given the Flashes’ 10 consecutive seasons of 20-plus wins. But Christian pointed out that the Zips (21-8, 11-4) have had some recent success of their own.

“Being so close, you get to know their players, you get to see them develop as players (and) you see the big wins that they get,” Christian said. “It’s a very successful program; it’s a program that year in and year out is competing for championships. You can only respect that.”

Christian has experience with other rivalries. He spent three seasons as an assistant at Pittsburgh, which has the “Backyard Brawl” rivalry with West Virginia.

He said that while he considers all rivalries to be the same, the one between Kent State and Akron has its own unique qualities.

“Because the passions of people who have been around here run so deep, it’s intense,” Christian said. “And it’s intense in all sports.”

“When I was at Pitt, the Pitt-West Virginia football and basketball was a huge rivalry. But at Kent, the Kent-Akron rivalry is big in everything. It’s big in every sport.”

The men’s basketball rivalry has become even more heated in the past couple of years. The Zips won all three games against the Flashes last season, including one in the MAC Tournament semifinals to send the Flashes home.

In the first game this season the Flashes had to come back from a 10-point halftime deficit to win, and the end of the game was marked by a shoving match which resulted in double technical fouls against each team.

Still, Christian said the incident from the first game was forgotten in his mind and said he doesn’t anticipate it being a factor Sunday night.

“When two good, competitive teams meet, sometimes those things happen,” Christian said. “I think both programs were a little embarrassed by it because that’s not indicative of either program. It’s not indicative of how either coach coaches their team. It happened (and) we have to deal with it, but it’s completely forgotten about on our end.”

Contact sports reporter Doug Gulasy at [email protected].