Future seniors plan on living up to legacy

Sean Joseph

(From left) Kent State’s redshirt freshman forward Isaac Knight, freshman guard Jordan Mincy and junior guard Armon Gates watch the seconds wind down in the Kent State men’s basketball team’s loss to Pittsburgh in the first round of the NCAA Tournament Fr

Credit: Carl Schierhorn

Even after a first-round loss, appearing in the NCAA Division I Men’s Tournament did a lot for the men’s basketball team.

The tournament experience motivated the players who are coming back next year to already start working to get back to the tournament and advance further, said junior guard Armon Gates. That’s why the athletes and coaches are still found in the M.A.C. Center on their week off.

After Spring Break, the team will come back and officially start working with its position coaches for next season.

“We really don’t know what to do with ourselves right now,” Gates said. “You want to take a break and relax your body, but again, you want to get back to it. I wish we were still practicing for another game.”

Gates said the team was satisfied with how the season turned out overall. Although things started rough, it overcame a lot to accomplish a Mid-American Conference regular-season and tournament championship. The Flashes also recorded an eighth straight 20-win season.

The team began the season dropping its first season-opener in six years. Non-conference play was tough for the Flashes, and after facing teams such as Rutgers, Southern Illinois, St. Mary’s and Syracuse, their record was 6-5.

Troubles that now seem trivial continued to follow the team at the beginning of the season. Senior Nate Gerwig hurt his knee practicing for the Saint Mary’s Holiday Classic in California. But when the coaching staff sat down to implement a strategy that made up for Gerwig’s absence and the team’s defensive weakness, it came up with the trapping defense that became Kent State’s calling card this season.

As the team switched its lineup, players’ roles changed. Sophomore forward Mike Scott became the backbone of the defense, and senior forward Kevin Warzynski, who was named to the First Team All-MAC team preseason, was taken out of the starting lineup during a shooting slump.

Warzynski came out of his slump but stuck to his role coming off the bench. At the end of the regular season he was named MAC Sixth Man of the Year and then the MAC Tournament MVP. He ended the season averaging 10.5 points and five rebounds a game.

Gates said he wouldn’t have enjoyed this season as much if they didn’t go through ups and downs like they did.

The players did not let their record, injuries, shifts in the lineup or individual slumps distract them from working hard, assistant coach Arnette Jordan said.

“At one point Armon (Gates) would come in here and put up about 200 shots a day when he was only playing five minutes a game,” Jordan said. “He worked hard because he never knew when his number would be called. That was what the work ethic was like for the team all season.”

When the MAC season started, the four seniors stepped up and led the team to win 17 of its last 20 regular-season games.

“If the season was just a straight line and everything went wrong or everything went right, it wouldn’t have been good for building our team,” Gates said. “We had humps to get over, but when we started playing MAC teams we flipped the switch and played at full strength.”

Though the leadership of senior guards DeAndre Haynes and Jay Youngblood will be hard to replace, Gates said he is ready for the responsibility.

“I’m going to be a vocal leader, and Omni (Smith) is quieter and will lead by example and what he does on the court,” Gates said. “Some others will step up, but that’s a perfect combination.”

Contact men’s basketball reporter Sean Joseph at [email protected]