Christian, stay true to the Flashes

Sean Joseph

The last two times Kent State has made the NCAA Tournament, it has lost its head coach.

And that is the story of most mid-major teams.

The first time I ever visited Kent State was the Monday after it lost in the Elite Eight in 2002. Evidence of March Madness and signs about the Cinderella team still were all over campus, but coach Gary Waters already had accepted the head coaching job at Rutgers.

Kent State coach Jim Christian, who can strategize, scout and teach young athletes with the best in the country, was Waters’ assistant coach and took over the team. Just as the program was at its peak, the coach left it to rebuild. And now, four years later, the team finally made it to the Big Dance again.

It would be unfortunate to see Christian use Kent State as a stepping stone like Waters and Stan Heath. Heath coaches at Arkansas and earned a No. 8 seed in the Oakland Bracket with the Flashes.

“As you go into the tournament, coaches get national exposure they normally wouldn’t receive,” said Laing Kennedy, Kent State director of athletics, during a press conference Tuesday. “Jim Christian is one of the great young coaches out there in my mind, and if he would have an opportunity to move on, that would be a great compliment to our program. But it’s not going to happen this time. We will make every effort to keep Jimmy. He likes us, and we like him.”

It is crucial for the short-term future of the team that Christian stay. With four seniors leaving the period of transition will be hard enough on the younger players.

If Christian stays, the team can build off what it already has, as well as the example this year’s senior class has set to be a perennial powerhouse in the conference.

Imagine the recruits Kent State could attract if it could promise a trip to the NCAA Tournament every year. Imagine the national attention the university would receive. Maybe we’d be remembered for something besides May 4.

If Christian stays, it also would be a step in the right direction for the MAC to get more than one bid to the tournament every season.

I think it would say more for his career to build a nationally competitive team out of a mid-major program than to take over the reigns of another one.

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