Seniors believe they can be even ‘better’ than the 2002 team
It may have been an extraordinary, record-setting season, but the Kent State men’s basketball team’s 2001-2002 season has plagued the team’s four seniors.
Mainly because the team hasn’t been past the National Invitation Tournament since.
“I want to be better than that (’02 season),” senior point DeAndre Haynes said. “Every day you hear about what they did, and I think we have a great group of seniors here that can do even better.”
Only senior forward Nate Gerwig was a part of the 2002 squad that rode its 30-6 season to the Elite 8 for the first time in Kent State history.
“We have a great group here,” Gerwig said. “I think it’s better than the group we had in ’02. But it’ll take a lot of hard work.”
But like the 2002 squad, Gerwig along with his fellow seniors, guard DeAndre Haynes, forward Kevin Warzynski and guard Jay Youngblood, expect to make their mark on Kent State basketball as well.
“When we leave here I want us to be remembered as the four seniors who led Kent State to an excellent season,” Haynes said. “I don’t want to go to just the Elite 8, I want to be remembered as going past that and having an excellent season. I want to be known for going to the tournament and doing everything right.”
Not only are the seniors looking forward to a bid to the NCAA Tournament in March, they’re looking forward to every game this season.
“(I’m excited for) every last one of them,” Youngblood said.
But all four seniors agreed they are all most excited to play at Syracuse on Dec. 30.
Syracuse won the NCAA Championship in 2003 and may be the Flashes’ toughest opponent this season.
The seniors also are looking forward to their Mid-American Conference schedule.
“I can’t wait to play at (Ohio). I’m looking forward to that,” Haynes said. “The whole crowd there gets up and taunts us when we’re losing.”
Although the Flashes beat Ohio in their last meeting on March 5 at the M.A.C. Center, the seniors said their 80-54 loss at Ohio haunts them.
“We’re going to beat (Ohio), we’re not going out like that,” Youngblood said. “That was the worst loss of the year. I think (Ohio’s) the worst.”
But to get to the NCAA Tournament, the Flashes have to win the MAC first.
“If we come out strong, we can make it to the MAC tournament and win,” Youngblood said.
Youngblood is a 6-foot-6 guard who can play almost every position on the court. Before coming to Kent State, he played in back-to-back junior college national championships.
The 6-foot-2 Haynes said he plans for the four seniors to lead the team through each of their personal strengths.
“My speed will help, but most of all our knowledge of the game will be important,” Haynes said. “And Nate (Gerwig) being the big man helps us out on the floor. I’ve been here for four years, so I’m the floor general; I know what to do in every situation. We have our big man (Warzynski) helping, and he can shoot. We have a lot of strength, so it matters how we play it out on the court.”
Haynes, who hails from Detroit, led the Mid-American Conference in assists for the past two seasons. With his 491 assists, he is only 103 shy of a school record. Haynes also only needs 25 more steals to add to his 172 and break the school record of 197 as well.
And after Sunday’s 71-52 exhibition win over Muskingum, Haynes appeared to have changed since last season.
“He’s had a lot more fun playing,” Kent State coach Jim Christian said. “That’s the most important thing. He’s a senior, and he’s trying to make the most out of his senior year. Other than that, he’s doing the same things he’s always done. He’s a lot more confident, and he’s playing very well.
“He comes to practice early, and whether he makes a mistake, he plays hard. We’re going to need him to play a good year if we’re going to have a good basketball team.”
But in order to have a good team, the 6-foot-8 Warzynski from Mount Pleasant, South Carolina, said the team’s defense needs to continue to improve.
“Defense was probably our weakest thing last year,” Warzynski said. “I think we solved most of those issues, if not all of them, this year. We’re playing harder; the guys know what they should do. That’s our biggest problem. Our offense has always been fine, but our defense will need to improve a lot.”
But the seniors said they plan to have help from the freshmen as well.
“We probably have the best freshmen in the MAC,” Youngblood said. “They have a good presence, and they can play a major role on this team. And Omni Smith, the junior college transfer, is good and he’s a good scorer too.”
Warzynski said the team has really come together as well, especially through trusting each other, which is their theme for the season.
“The whole trust thing is pretty much from last year and based on the whole idea that we can trust each other in every situation,” Warzynski said. “We can trust each other to take care of things on the court to be successful.”
No matter what, the team is counting on having a great season and making another appearance in the NCAA Tournament.
And another thing the seniors said they can always count on is the Kent State crowd.
“(Our crowd) is the most important part of playing at home. Our fans are the best part,” Warzynski said. “They make a big difference. We always hear how tough it is to play here. Without question, they’re the best. I expect them to be at every game and be even crazier than last year. When they come we’ll put on a good show.”
Contact assistant sports editor Kali Price at [email protected]