Tag Archives: Evan Clayborne

For Cleveland State, Next Year Has Arrived (But Not For Everybody)

The Cleveland State men’s basketball season, the first for head coach Dennis Felton, has finally come to its end. At this stage, most CSU fans have just resided themselves watching the future, which clearly rests on the shoulders of sophomores Kash Thomas and Evan Clayborne and freshmen Tyree Appleby and Stefan Kenic, rather than hope the present would get any better.

But then a funny thing happened on the way to the off-season: The Vikings got hot at Motor City Madness. All the way to the final game.

CSU, for its part, could have just rested on the first-round win over Youngstown State, which, of course, was a grind until the very end. The long odds and shot turnaround time from the victory against the Penguins would make any Vikings fan skeptical of beating Northern Kentucky, which had bested CSU by double digits twice in the regular season, let alone get to the final game.

But yet, there the Vikings were, fighting through nail-biter after nail-biter. And for the third year in a row, the top seed at the Horizon League Tournament failed to win the whole thing. And for the second year, the No. 1 seed inexplicably lost to the winner of the 8-9 first round game.

This year’s victim was Northern Kentucky, who, aside from getting swept by Wright State, had been pretty well-set at the top of the conference standings. And as for Cleveland State, the Norse had no issues dispatching of the Vikings twice in the regular season, with both contests won by at least 15 points.

CSU dismissed those early-season setbacks and ran headlong into the defending champions with no fear. The end result was a nine-point Cleveland State win, and Appleby was the star. The All-Freshmen team selection was unconscious in the second half, finishing with a game-high 24 points and putting all conference foes on notice that he’d be a force to be reckoned with for the next three years.

The ugly defensive slugfest against Oakland that was finally settled with 32.4 second left. That’s when Appleby stared down the Horizon League’s top shot-blocking squad and dropped a baseline layup.

And when that was through, senior Kenny Carpenter, whose 14 second-half points proved to be key, locked down Kendrick Nunn, the conference player of the year, and kept his final shot from getting in the basket, leaving Cleveland State with an astounding 44-43 win.

Even though Wright State proved to be too much for the Vikings in the finals, handing CSU a 74-57 defeat en route to a ticket to the NCAA Tournament, the foundation, it appears, has been laid.

For the Cleveland State fans that took the wait-and-see approach with Felton in his inaugural campaign, the Motor City Madness run was an early payoff to their patience. And CSU, who did everything within its power to get fans to Little Caesars Arena, can now think about how to expound upon this late-season success.

There will be far greater expectations for both the on-court performance and fan enthusiasm. Even with six departing seniors, Felton will still return two full-time starters (Appleby and Kenic), one former starter turned sixth man (Thomas), Clayborne, Dontel Highsmith and Shawn Christian.

Add into the mix DePaul transfer Algevon Eichelberger, fall signees Rashad Williams and Deante “Spider” Johnson, plus Dibaji Walker, Seth Milner, Uros Plavsic and JUCO transfer Jalaam Hill, who are all expected to join CSU during the spring signing period. With the general consensus being that this is the most talented recruiting class in a long time, Felton will have to get them all adjusted to the Division I game quickly.

One sign he may get a chance to get the team on the same page quicker than, say, midway through the non-conference schedule, is the pending trip to Europe. Men’s basketball has already started the fundraising effort to get the $20,000 in funds to make that trip a reality. And with $4,635 already banked from CSU’s annual Giving Day event in February, it’s only a matter of time before the team gets the rest of the funds and can start packing their bags.

From a fan standpoint, Athletics must take a good, hard look at the effort put in during the conference tourney and parlay that into a plan to boost attendance at the Wolstein Center. The smart move would be to keep the summer social media push (which featured weekly videos and the blitz on Twitter involving the mascot, Magnus) going year-round.

The logical first stop? Spring signing day. After all, all the new recruits are on Twitter, along with Thomas, Appleby, Highsmith and Clayborne. The chatter between all of them in the off-season will be something to watch.

So, as the title implies, next year has arrived, but not for everybody. For the seniors, next year is here in the form of new adventures, both on the court and off, after graduation. For the underclassmen and recruits, next year comes in the form of getting to know each other and the prospect of making 20-loss seasons a thing of the past.

For the coaches, next year comes in the form of the spring signing period, along with taking a good, hard look at the recruiting class of 2019 and beyond. For the fans, next year comes in the form of, well, beating each other up on social media and the CSU Viking Hoops message board run by writer Tom Mieskoski.

For me and this column, however, there is no next year.

In January, I made the decision to stop the CSU column I have written since May 2014, starting at the now-defunct More Than a Fan: Cleveland and continuing here at Campus Pressbox in March 2016. It’s been a good run, but as they say, all good things must come to an end.

Sure, you’ll still see me break out the occasional Twitter rant, but as far as this column is concerned, that’s a wrap. There’s still plenty of news and views about Cleveland State out there, starting with Mieskoski’s Cleveland State Hoops site and including upstarts like 216 Sports and The Reserve News. You’d do well to follow all of them, as I have.

For someone who never thought he’d be writing anywhere ever again, it has been an honor and a privilege to cover my alma mater. And I thank all of you, both at Cleveland State and beyond, who made this possible. Because at the end of the day, win or lose, I will always be a fan.

An occasionally grouchy, angry fan, but a fan, nonetheless.

Email 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

Welcome to the Cleveland State Youth Movement

Cleveland State men’s basketball coach Gary Waters has always relied on senior leadership throughout his tenure to provide some form of stability to his squad. In years past, you could easy differentiate the successful teams from those that weren’t based on the number of seniors on the roster.

Using that as a measure, it’s rather easy to see that in years where only one senior played a role in the rotation, the Vikings struggled. This was true during the 2012-13 season, Tim Kamczyc’s senior year, and last season, when Vinny Zollo was the lone senior.

So, in a season as critical and as uncertain as this one is for Cleveland State, it’s a bit surprising that only one senior, Demonte Flannigan, is a part of this roster. And for the first two games against Kent State and Canisius, the Vikings didn’t even have him. Prior to the game against the Flashes at Youngstown State’s Beeghly Center, Flannigan was rushed to the hospital due to chest pains.

And he wasn’t cleared to play in the subsequent game versus the Golden Griffins, either, which left Cleveland State down three players, with Flannigan joining juniors Gavin Peppers and Terrelle Hales on the sidelines.

In the opening half of the Kent State game, fans could feel the sense of dread that dogged them all last year creep in. The Vikings were shooting blanks and going down by as much as 21 points with five minutes left in the half. Not helping matters was the fact that fans who couldn’t make the trip to Youngstown found themselves shut out of both the audio and video feeds online for a big chunk of that half.

But a funny thing happened on the way to navel-gazing. Cleveland State finally snapped out of what’s been a nearly year-long funk and did what it usually does when knocked down: fight back. And it was Jamarcus Hairston, the junior-college forward, who tossed in a three-pointer to force overtime against the Flashes.

Even though the Vikings ran out of gas and fell, 79-74, it seemed as if there may be some glimpses of what had been hallmarks of the program in the Waters era. And something else stuck out as noteworthy: The underclassmen, particularly the freshmen and sophomores, played a major role in the comeback.

In years past, Waters has been adamant about not starting freshmen right away. This was even true last year, as Rob Edwards didn’t get his first start until the Rhode Island game and Jibri Blount didn’t get the nod until the January 30th contest against Horizon League foe UIC.

However, it seems that necessity, and perhaps a superstar in the making, has prompted Waters to re-think his original notion. With Peppers out, Waters turned to freshman Kash Thomas to take on the role of floor general. And in the Kent State game, he finished with 13 points and nine assists.

And Flannigan’s absence has spurred on Evan Clayborne’s introduction into the rotation, chipping in four rebounds in 32 minutes against the Flashes.

The youth movement’s next test came on Tuesday night against Canisius, and impressively, the Vikings did something else fans haven’t seen in a while: provide a balanced attack against its foe. Five Cleveland State players, including Edwards, Blount, Thomas, junior Bobby Word and, coming out of nowhere, Derek Sloan, all scored in double figures en route to a 67-64 win.

Without a senior in the rotation at the moment, it appears that the Vikings have made the adjustments needed, making this a potential sign that the 2015-16 disaster will soon be a distant memory. With a very tough UT-Martin squad coming up and nationally-ranked Kentucky on the horizon, wins may be hard to come by in the near-term.

But as Waters would likely echo sentiments he’s conveyed in years past: Judge this team in January and February. Perhaps this year, that judgment will be that Cleveland State is back to where it usually is: Within shouting distance of the top of the Horizon League standings.

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

Image via CSUVikings.com

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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