Two seniors have business to finish

Deanna Stevens

Senior players reflect on their role in team’s legacy

With regular season and Mid-American Conference tournament championships, along with a NCAA tournament berth last season, this year’s Kent State men’s basketball team had a tough act to follow.

And the only seniors, Armon Gates and Omni Smith, were thrust into the role of leading the team to continued success.

“It feels good,” Gates said. “It’s a lot of weight off our shoulders as seniors, just knowing the tradition will keep continuing. It’s off our back now. We have confidence that we’re going to finish the season on a good note.”

He added that while last year’s team left them with a benchmark, he and Smith have had to lead the team this year.

“We have to be ourselves,” Gates said. “Tradition never graduates, but I’m not going to look at (former guard Jay) Youngblood and try to be him. I’m not him. I’m going to be myself. You can take the basis of the program and try to do that, but my attitude will be different. The way I approach things will be different from the way they did. And that’s how we’re leaving our own mark on the program.”

Kent State coach Jim Christian said Gates and Smith have been instrumental to the team’s success this season.

“They’ve showed this young team what it takes to have a winning program,” Christian said. “The young guys always have an eye on them, and that makes it difficult for them because they can’t get caught up in their own agenda because everyone is watching how they approach things. And they’ve done a great job showing the guys how to prepare and do all those things.”

Gates, the elder statesmen of the program, has been with the Flashes for the past five seasons. He said the team has a good chance to get the championship because of the players’ ability to battle through any situation.

“We may be losing by a couple of points,” Gates said. “But we stay with it and keep fighting, and we find ourselves right back into that game. Our biggest asset is that we play hard. We’re not just a run-up-and-down (the court) team – We’ve got to play grimy. We’ve got to fly all over the court and hustle. And do all the little things to win.”

Both Gates and Smith have been catalysts in the team’s ability to come back.

At George Mason, Gates took a charge late in the second half and followed that play with a 3-pointer to seal the win for Kent State.

Smith has devastated Ohio twice this season, hitting two game-winning jumpers against the Bobcats with just seconds left each time.

He said he is focused on doing what ever the team needs in order to win. But worrying about how people will remember his legacy is low on the priority list.

“Everyone is going to have their own opinion about me,” Smith said. “I don’t want to put something in somebody’s head. So if I like it, then I like it. But if I don’t, then I can feed off it.”

A transfer from Eastfield Community College, Smith has been with the Flashes for the past two years.

“Even though I’m a senior, I’m pretty young as far as being in the system,” Smith said. “The oldest guys here is Armon, then junior Mike Scott; they’ve been there the longest.

“Everybody else is learning how Kent State basketball really is, even me still. I’m still learning everyday.”

Christian said even though Gates and Smith have different leadership styles, they’re both effective leaders.

“They’ve had a tremendous impact,” Christian said. “It’s their legacy. This is their team. They’re going to be the ones remembered for this team’s success.”

Contact men’s basketball reporter Deanna Stevens at [email protected].