Following the leaders

Kali Price

Underclassmen prepare to be next generation

Throughout the 2005-2006 season, it’s been the Kent State men’s basketball team’s four seniors, DeAndre Haynes, Kevin Warzynski, Nate Gerwig and Jay Youngblood, who have carried the team to its eighth-straight 20-plus win season, an overall record of 22-8, a Mid-American Conference record of 15-3, the top seed in the MAC Tournament and the regular season MAC Championship.

It’s been their team all season, but soon, it’ll be all up to sophomore Mike Scott and juniors Omni Smith and Armon Gates.

“It’s going to be our team,” Gates said. “We’re not going to change anything from what these seniors did. “

Gates has played in all 30 games this season and has recently been one of the team’s starting guards.

But all season, it hasn’t been just the team’s four seniors who have stepped up to win. Gates said it’s been every player to step up and find his role on the team.

Smith, along with freshman Jordan Mincy, have been the team’s other two guards that have stepped up to help win the MAC Championship.

Smith, new to the squad after transferring from junior college, is the team’s fourth leading scorer, averaging 8.6 points per game.

Gates added that every player has stepped up and learned his role as the season progressed, forming a championship team.

“The biggest thing is that we see each other like a team,” Gates said. “Like Mike Scott, I’m pretty sure coming into the season, he didn’t think he’d be one of the best defenders. He takes pride in it.”

Scott is one of the team’s top defenders, averaging 4.7 rebounds per game. Redshirt freshman Isaac Knight tops off the offensive rebounders list with an average of 1.7 per game.

At the beginning of the season, Scott was expected to be one of the team’s top shooters, but Scott stepped up into the defensive leadership role.

“Sometimes I’m doing the most movement, but it’s just a lot of support and a lot of help,” Scott said.

As Gates describes himself as the most vocal, Smith plans to lead the underclassmen by his game.

“I’m going to lead by example,” Smith said. “We’re a team; they know what they need to do. I’m pretty sure everyone will look to up to Armon the most because he’s been here the longest.”

Gates was redshirted his freshman year after a preseason leg injury and began playing in the 2003-2004 season.

Gates added he is excited to become one of the team’s leaders.

“Every year (the freshmen) learn from coach first,” Gates said. “There’s so much to learn at one time. That’s when we come in and tell them to calm down and watch us first. It’s a lot of chaos. I remember my first time coming in, everything was crazy. (Director of Basketball Operations and former Kent State player) Eric Haut taught me a lot; he showed me the way. You can’t be selfish to have a championship team.”

Scott said he hopes to build on what this year’s seniors have established.

“I feel like we’ve got a good support in the seniors,” he said. “But they’re passing the torch on. I think we’ve got a lot coming back next year, and everybody knows the high expectations, and we’re going to live up to that.”

As each member of the team has found his role this season, Gates said the roles will change next year as the seniors leave and the roster changes.

“With the four seniors gone, we’re definitely going to miss them,” he said. “It’s like every year we lose seniors and new people step up. Everybody’s going to step up. It’s going to be a pretty good year next year.”

But before Gates, Smith and Scott step into the leadership roles next season, they have the MAC Tournament to worry about first.

This season was the first time for all of them winning a regular season MAC Championship. Gates said it was a great feeling to contribute to the team this season.

“Coming in here, like on all of your visits, they tell you that you’re going to win a championship,” Smith said. “But, it’s my first championship ever. It’s unbelievable. And to see who it’s with. We all are close, and that made it extra special.”

Scott said he plans on winning the MAC again in the next two years of his career.

“(We’re going to win it) two more times,” Scott said. “I can’t think any other way. I’m going to try to help the incoming guys, support the two seniors we have.”

After a 75-67 loss at Akron Saturday, the Flashes are even more determined to win the MAC Tournament.

“I’m feeling hungry,” Smith said. “A lot of people keep underestimating the MAC. We can’t be content with being just MAC Champions. We want to be known nationally. A lot of people don’t even remember the Elite Eight team. If we keep going back again, it’s going to start to build up. The people are going to remember. Heroes will be remembered, but legends never die.”

Contact sports editor Kali Price at [email protected].