|No Flash in pan: Kent State enters tournament with confidence|
|Written by Admin|
|Tuesday, 18 March 2008 11:28|
One of 10 members on the NCAA tournament selection committee, Kennedy, Kent State's highly respected athletic director, was required to leave the Indianapolis hotel room Sunday when it came time for the Golden Flashes' tourney resume to be analyzed before they were seeded and placed in one of four regions.
Seconds turned to minutes, and Kennedy grew a touch antsy.
``I thought it was taking longer than it needed to be,'' Kennedy said with a laugh.
He had no reason to be nervous.
Even before the NCAA tourney tips off, Kent State has had a run this season unlike any in its hoop history. In February, the Golden Flashes earned their first ranking in the AP poll, the first time a MAC school had cracked the Top 25 since 2001.
Beyond that, they won the league's East title, went 16-0 at home, won the MAC tournament and will carry a 28-6 record into the opening round. Kent State also had the conference's top player, junior college transfer Al Fisher, the defensive player of the year, spider-like Haminn Quaintance, and the MAC's top coach, Jim Christian, who is certain to be a hot commodity among schools searching for a new coach to revive them.
``We've had a great run,'' said senior forward Mike Scott. ``But there's still work to be done.''
Christian, a fast-talking Long Island native, is in his sixth season at the northeast Ohio school, which will forever be linked to the tragic 1970 campus shootings. The 41-year-old was an assistant to Stan Heath in 2002, when the Golden Flashes went the national quarterfinals, beating Oklahoma State, Alabama and Pittsburgh before losing to Indiana.
Christian, 138-57 at Kent, has built on the success first started by Gary Waters and maintained by Heath, making Kent State the envy of the highly competitive MAC. All that's missing from Christian's glowing resume is an NCAA tournament win, one that could come against the Runnin' Rebels.
But of his many accomplishments, Christian is most proud of the team-first attitude that characterizes Kent's system. It's about seniors stepping up. It's about players accepting roles without question. It's about family.
On senior night last season, Christian wanted to start Armon Gates and Omni Smith, two seniors who had been coming off the bench. But before the game, the players approached their coach and said that while they appreciated his gesture, they wanted to keep things the same.
``When guys are doing that, then everything's in place,'' Christian said proudly. ``Whether you win or lose, win championships or not, everything is in place in the program. Those are things that will stay with me forever, how much guys are willing to give in order to win.''
As good as Kent State has been in recent years, there's also been some luck along the way as Fisher's story can attest.
Buried on a Redlands (Okla.) Community College team loaded with Division I players, Fisher, who began his career at Siena, wasn't getting much interest when Kent State, which had a scholarship opening, called asking about any potential point guards.
Fisher was recommended and ended up signing with Kent State on the day before school started without Christian or his assistants seeing him play in person. The 6-foot-1 guard led the team in scoring and made three game-winning shots in the final seconds.
``I just came out and played my game,'' Fisher said. ``I didn't think I'd be player of the year or anything like that.''
Kent State's last NCAA visit was brief. In 2006, the Golden Flashes were intimidated and thumped by Pittsburgh in the first round.
``We were shell-shocked,'' said Scott, an aeronautical engineering major who can fly to the rim. ``This time, we're confident we can play with any team in the country, regardless if it's Kansas, Duke, UNLV.''
Following a 29-point loss to top-ranked North Carolina in January, the Golden Flashes went 18-3. They beat No. 23 Saint Mary's and didn't lose consecutive games all season.
Their next loss will end this run, which is why Christian wants his players to savor March's madness. Twenty years ago, he was a backup guard on a Rhode Island team that beat Missouri and Syracuse before losing by one point to Duke.
``I can remember every single second of it,'' he said.
If Kent State can get by UNLV, top-seeded Kansas could be waiting. As Christian has witnessed, it doesn't matter what name is on the uniform then.
``The beautiful part of this tournament is that it's just one game,'' he said. ``When the mid-major teams get there, you have to beat them on one day. It's not four out of seven. It's not three out of five. It's not two out of three. Anything can happen.
``And on one night, if you execute and somebody has an off night, anybody can beat anybody.''