Tag Archives: Anthony Wright

Hard Lessons in Learning How to Win for Cleveland State

Cleveland State might be forgiven for feeling its way through the non-conference schedule, given the new coaching staff and the need to have the new players and upperclassmen start gelling as a team. However, with the slate head coach Dennis Felton and company put together in the ramp-up to the Horizon League games, the Vikings have been dropped into the deep end of the pool and are asked to swim back to shore.

In the first six games, it’s clear that learning to win has been a lesson that has seen Cleveland State take steps forward and backward. Taking away the blowout at Rutgers, and you can see two, perhaps three games early on that could have been winnable for the Vikings.

But when you have a team with a new coach and whose veterans have suffered from back-to-back 20-loss seasons, the road to completing the final lessons in winning will be winding and, at times, full of potholes.

The primary lesson, at least in the early going, has been the ability to close out games. Against East Carolina and Central Connecticut State, Cleveland State was leading in the final minutes. And, in both cases, offensive outages, coupled with defensive lapses, proved to be too much to overcome at the end of both contests.

As frustrating as the losses have been (and you were all warned about this, by the way), you have gotten the sense that it was only a matter of time before the Vikings were finally able to get over the hump. And Wednesday’s match-up against Arkansas State was a sign that things were taking a turn in the right direction.

Sure, Cleveland State had kept letting the Red Wolves back into the game, as it had against ECU and CCSU. But this time, the Vikings hunkered down, and bolstered by a key block by Bobby Word and a defensive set that led to an unforced error by Arkansas State, CSU came through with the 75-72 victory.

“We talked about the first year and how important it is to build your culture and set a high standard of excellence,” Felton told The News-Herald after the win.

If any of this sounds familiar to longtime Cleveland State fans, that’s likely because the Vikings have been in this situation before. It was 11 years ago, to be exact when Gary Waters took over as the head coach after years of poor-to-middling teams capped by four straight 20-loss seasons.

That, as it seems, is where the similarities end. Waters, in his first year, was given the latitude to ease Cleveland State back on the winning track, bringing transfers like Cedric Jackson, Chris Moore and George Tandy into the mix, starting in Year Two.

Felton, on the other hand, has taken a different approach. First, he’s called on the senior holdovers from the Waters era, specifically Word, Kenny Carpenter and Anthony Wright, to step up in the starting rotation. In addition, lending to a sense of urgency, the new players he’s brought into the mix, freshmen Stefan Kenic and Tyree Appleby, along with Northern Illinois transfer Dontel Highsmith, have played big minutes so far this season.

While the Arkansas State win was a much-needed boost, the non-conference road doesn’t get any easier, which includes tough road contests against Top 25 teams Cincinnati and Michigan State. That said, the Vikings appear to be in a better position than preseason pundits saw them, and with the volatility of the Horizon League, don’t be surprised if they pull out some wins nobody expected.

Email Bob at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @bobmcdonald.

Image via CSUVikings.com

The 2017-18 Cleveland State Men’s Basketball Preview: Overachievers Wanted

For a number of years during the Gary Waters era, Cleveland State developed a reputation for outperforming its initial slot in pre-season conference predictions.

Now, with the arrival of Dennis Felton, the Vikings, who had languished at the bottom of the Horizon League standings as a result of two consecutive 20-loss seasons, will have to beat the odds again in order to outpace low expectations.

Sure, patience is preached by many of the CSU faithful. But even Felton will tell you that patience will only get you so far in college basketball. And for a program with both a recent history of losing and a lack of fans showing up to the arena, the wait-and-see approach won’t win you new faces in the crowd.

However, you can almost feel the forgiveness for the potential of a third-straight losing season coming down the pike. Demote Flannigan and walk-on Tim Hasbargen have graduated, and leading scorer Rob Edwards has transferred to Arizona State. Edwards was joined in exiting by fellow Class of 2015 recruit Jibri Blount, who made his way to North Carolina Central, as well as walk-ons Daniel Levitt and Nelson Maxwell.

And those were the guys who actually played a minute for Cleveland State. Redshirts Gavin Peppers, Andy Lucien, and PJ Posey all chose new schools during the transition between Waters and Felton.

Still, even with all of these departures, you have to think that a team with six seniors on the roster should be able to rise above the low expectations set forth by, well, everybody.

And the focal point of this Viking attack must come from senior Bobby Word, who, along with sophomore point guard Kash Thomas, started all 31 games last season. Word, the Oral Roberts transfer, will need to improve upon his strong suit, three-point shooting, which fluctuated wildly during the 2016-17 campaign.

The remaining seniors will be fighting for a more prominent role, as none of them averaged more than 17 minutes per contest. The primary candidate on this front will be senior Anthony Wright, who will likely see a boost in playing time with the graduation of Flannigan, and sophomore Evan Clayborne. Also competing for time in the frontcourt will be seniors Derek Sloan, who started 23 games but only averaged 12 minutes, and Jamarcus Hairston.

Kenny Carpenter will also likely be using his senior year to make his case for additional minutes, as well Terrelle Hales, although Hales has established himself more as a rebounding threat rather than a scorer, which CSU desperately needs in the wake of Edwards’ departure.

Thomas, who made Cleveland State history to start every game as a freshman, is certainly poised to improve upon that initial campaign. Word will be one of Thomas’ primary benefactors, of course, but the Vikings will also look to some of the new faces on the squad, specifically Northern Illinois transfer Dontel Highsmith and incoming freshmen guards Tyree Appleby and Shawn Christian.

Felton has also made it clear that he’s expanding the CSU recruiting base internationally, as evidenced by the hiring of Drazen Zlovaric and the arrival of 6-9 forward Stefan Kenic, who spent this summer as part of the U20 Serbian National Team that competed in the FIBA Euro Championships. Rounding out the new faces are a pair of recent additions at the beginning of the fall semester, St. Ignatius grad Deven Stover and David Payne, who comes to the Vikings for Malcolm X College.

With all of the personnel changes with coaches and players, the leadership from the CSU veterans will have to shine through, particularly during the non-conference schedule. With teams like Rutgers, Cincinnati, Michigan State, Akron and Kent State on tap, among others, Felton’s squad is going to get to the New Year’s Day Horizon League opener against Youngstown State either battle-tested or completely demoralized. And given how the last two seasons under Waters went, the Vikings can’t afford for the latter to happen.

Moreover, Cleveland State, which has been picked anywhere from sixth to last in the conference by pre-season pundits, needs to aspire to the higher of those predictions. And while a Viking return to the upper echelon of the Horizon League would take a Herculean effort, another 20-loss season would smack in the face of any patience fans may have.

E-mail Bob at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @bobmcdonald.

Image via CSUVikings.com

Cleveland State’s Slow, Steady Social Media Burn

In years past, the Cleveland State men’s basketball team has been up and down in terms of its social media presence. The most glaring example of this shortcoming was the disappearance of former coach Gary Waters from Twitter, which oddly coincided with a number of coaching departures in 2015.

In fact, the only thing that made that situation worse for Waters was the emergence of the Evil Gary Waters parody account in summer 2016. And like all good parody accounts, this one went to work quickly on all things Cleveland State. To the detriment of CSU, Evil Gary’s popularity only grew as the Vikings slogged through a 9-22 campaign.

So when Dennis Felton took over for the retiring Waters in late March, the bar was set pretty low on the social media front. But even with the low bar, you could tell there was going to be some pressure to get up to speed, especially with fellow Horizon League coaches getting a big jump ahead of him.

But an interesting thing started happening in the middle of the summer. Social media with CSU athletics, which has been marked by highs (like lacrosse coach Dylan Sheridan’s Twitter feed) and lows (the aforementioned Waters disappearance) started getting on the same page.

And while coaches like Sheridan and women’s basketball coach Kate Peterson Abiad have always been active, it has been men’s basketball that has always seemed to lag behind them.

Felton and his staff, it appears, are looking to change that in a big way. And Cleveland State is naturally on board.

The change has never been more striking than on Felton’s Twitter feed. Previously, many of his posts have included quotations from coaching greats or thoughts on the NBA, of which he spent three years as the Director of Player Personnel with the San Antonio Spurs.

Now, he’s leaned into CSU, lending support to not only men’s basketball, but all Vikings sports, as well as various Viking-centric ventures that have included contributing a jersey to Bryan Black’s 351 Jerseys for Hope campaign to raise awareness for epilepsy.

For athletics as a whole, CSU has made a huge push to get votes for Magnus during Mid-Major Madness’ Mascot Melee, which has pushed the Viking mascot to the Elite Eight, at last count.

Video has been playing a huge role in the summer social media blitz as well. For its part, Cleveland State has made Felton the star of a weekly video series, aptly titled Fridays with Felton.

And then there was the Drive-By Dunk Challenge.

With the sounds of George Clinton and Parliament Funkadelic, who Felton is a huge fan of, he and three players, senior Anthony Wright, sophomore Evan Clayborne and freshman Tyree Appleby (a Twitter must-follow in his own right) chronicled their journey to Westlake to take part in the dunking on driveway hoops.

Felton has even been spotted on the live-video platform Periscope, setting up a feed during his autograph-signing session at a Lake County Captains game.

Since his hire, Felton has made multiple overtures that he wants to shake things up and perhaps surprise some people with his team’s performance on the court. While we won’t know about how Felton’s influence will translate in the win-loss column until the season starts, the recent social media efforts have indeed been a pleasant surprise.

At the very least, Felton, along with the rest Cleveland State athletics, have recognized that a change was sorely needed to find some footing in an already-crowded Cleveland sports landscape for its signature program.

E-mail Bob at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @bobmcdonald.

Image via Cleveland State Athletics

The 2016-17 Cleveland State Men’s Basketball Preview: Your Guess Is as Good as Mine

Cleveland State men’s basketball coach Gary Waters, throughout the course of one of the worst campaigns of his career last season, hinted that he wanted to start fresh for 2016-17. Nobody could really blame him, with a dismal 9-23 showing, a first-round conference tournament exit and turmoil at basically every turn.

Looking at what Waters has put together for this year, there’s really no telling what’s going to happen.

Even the college basketball pundits, in their annual prognostications, are varying wildly as to how the Vikings will end up in the Horizon League standings, from as high as fifth to as low as ninth. Even the official conference preseason rankings had CSU predicted to finish eighth.

Realistically, any of those predictions could be right because, honestly, nobody has a clue what Cleveland State is capable of.

One thing that can be said about this Viking squad is that the leader of this team is, in fact, a sophomore. That’s Rob Edwards. The All-Freshman guard, and pre-season Second Team All-Horizon League pick, seemingly came out of nowhere to lead the team in scoring, with 12.4 points per game. For a team that ranked at the bottom of all teams (not just the conference) in scoring at 60.8 points per contest, to get that type of production was sorely needed.

The problem was, though, that Edwards was far more efficient off the dribble than he was running the point. Actually, that was Cleveland State’s problem for the duration of the 2015-16 season.

While so much was made of the transfers by Trey Lewis and Anton Grady, the one thing that really killed CSU was the lack of a true point guard. That wasn’t supposed to be a problem for Waters, but his depth in the backcourt disintegrated even before the season began.

Kaza Keane, who was projected to be the starter, returned to his native Canada to thrive with national champion Carleton University. And Myles Hamilton, the other pure point guard on the roster, imploded, starting the season suspended and ending up kicked off the team after a verbal altercation during the Green Bay game. That left freshman walk-on Nelson Maxwell, and a patchwork of shooting guards left to shoulder the load.

Waters wasn’t about to tempt fate this year, snagging Laramie County (WY) Community College’s Gavin Peppers and freshman Kash Thomas from Quebec. In addition to their skills at point guard, both can provide another need from beyond the arc, as Peppers and Thomas shot 37 and 44 percent, respectively, from three-point range.

Beyond alleviating the point guard issue, Edwards should get much more help in the scoring department with the Cleveland State debut of Oral Roberts transfer Bobby Word. Averaging 8.4 points a game for the Golden Eagles, he saved his best for the end, including a 22-point effort against Loyola-Chicago in the CBI. Walk-on sharpshooter Daniel Levitt will also make his return after sitting out a huge chunk of the season with a knee injury.

As guard depth has long been a signature of the Waters era, it also means there’s probably going to be a risk of some odd men out, with playing time coming at a premium. Walk-on Tim Hasbargen from Germany will likely return to the end of the bench, now that the guard coffers have once again been filled.

But what of Kenny Carpenter and Terrelle Hales? Despite Hales’ strength on defense and Carpenter’s flashes of skill last year, the two juniors may find themselves on the outside looking in, especially if the bulk of the scoring is being provided by the backcourt.

Size is still a major issue for the Vikings, with no one over 6’8″. While this may not matter in the Horizon League contests (the key exceptions being UIC and preseason favorite Valparaiso), non-conference foes, such as Kentucky and Purdue, could have a field day.

That notwithstanding, there will be depth in the frontcourt, with the lone CSU senior, Demonte Flannigan, leading the way. As the team’s leading returning rebounder and second-leading scorer, the Villa Angela-St. Joseph’s product will need to keep out of foul trouble, an issue that plagued him much of last season.

Jibri Blount will also be providing key minutes at forward, coming back after his own impressive freshman year. Though hampered by an ankle injury down the stretch, Blount did make five starts last year.

They will be joined by 6’8″ juco transfer Jamarcus Hairston, a third-team Division II All-NJCAA player from Louisburg Junior College. Hairston, who averaged nine boards per game and possesses range beyond the arc, could be an x-factor for the Vikings, in terms of stretching out the floor.

A pair of other unknown quantities on the frontcourt will be another juco transfer, Anthony Wright, and Evan Clayborne, a freshman from Dayton Thurgood Marshall. Derek Sloan will also be returning for his junior year and, like Wright, will be rotating between guard and forward slots.

With so much change, Waters appears to be in win-now mode, perhaps for the first time since he’s been at Cleveland State. So perhaps it’s no surprise that the Vikings are really wildcards when it comes to where they’ll finish out the season.

That leads to the biggest question of all. If Cleveland State should somehow come out on the low end of preseason predictions, what becomes of Waters?

Conventional wisdom would lead you to believe that no matter the outcome this season, Waters would not face a day of reckoning until after a new athletic director is selected after John Parry retires.

Like the preseason predictions, Waters’ own future may very well be anyone’s guess.

Email Bob at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @bobmcdonald.

Image via CSUVikings.com

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