Program measures up to ’02 squad

Kali Price

The 2002 Kent State men’s basketball team is a “special team” to the program, said Kent State coach Jim Christian and Laing Kennedy, Kent State director of athletics.

As this year’s squad prepares to take on Pittsburgh tomorrow in the first round of the NCAA Division I Men’s Tournament, comparisons between the two teams are flying in from every angle.

“Every team is different,” Kennedy said. “There are times when I think this team is even stronger than the ’02 team. The ’02 team was very, very special. You look at how we’re playing, we’ve got great position, great coaching, great chemistry, and they’re playing very well. I’m not predicting a win or loss, but we’ll play well.”

Senior center Nate Gerwig said that it’s Pitt’s appearance that makes the Panthers more intimidating.

“I think it’s more of their size and their power,” he said. “They’re from a bigger conference. We’re pretty good ourselves. I think we’re going to be all right.”

But despite Pitt’s size and skill, the Panthers are coming off a 65-61 loss to Syracuse in the Big East Championship.

“We’re going to expect the best,” Gerwig said. “You always have to expect the best. They’re a great team. We’re going to go out and play our hardest and win. “

Gerwig is the team’s only senior that has played in the NCAA Tournament previously, as he was a freshman on the 2002 squad.

“I think everyone on this team can play,” he said. “We’ve got real depth. We’ve got good leadership with the four seniors. That team was a little more experienced in the tournament, but we’re going to try our hardest. They had been there a couple times before.”

The 2002 squad’s seniors had been to the tournament in 1999, 2001 and then 2002. Trevor Huffman, Andrew Mitchell, Demetric Shaw and Eric Thomas were immortalized in Kent State basketball history, but are now looked at as part of just a Cinderella team.

But Kennedy disagrees.

“I do not look at Kent State as a Cinderella team,” he said. “I see them as a perennial postseason team.”

Kennedy said a few factors are needed to make the Flashes a “perennial postseason team.” Along with the rest of the Mid-American Conference, Kent State needs to step up its scheduling and continue its team’s strong leadership.

“I see tremendous senior leadership,” he said. “We had it in the NIT teams, we had it in ’02, we have it now. You just sense their leadership and compassion for each other.”

For the MAC as a whole, Kennedy said a “national strategy” needs to be made.

“We as a conference really have to do some things, as administrators and as conference commissioners, to really develop a national strategy,” he said. “We need to develop a national relationship with major conferences as far as scheduling. And not so much scheduling, but scheduling and winning. We need to continue to make serious investments in our program.”

Kennedy served on the NCAA Selection Committee for the first time this season, working as one of the league’s administrators who helps make the brackets for the NCAA Tournament.

This year’s bracket has been the center of controversy, as bubble teams, such as Cincinnati, were left out.

“There are so many teams, when you’re involved, and you have to put a piece of paper between two teams, you realize the magnitude of the decision we were making,” Kennedy said. “And there were really outstanding teams that I thought should have gotten in. The way the process works, you really don’t get to the point of being an advocate for a team. One committee member cannot influence a decision.”

Contact sports editor Kali Price at [email protected]