Tag Archives: Gary Waters

Kenny Carpenter Becomes the Offensive Force Cleveland State Needs

It’s been a rather interesting roller coaster ride for Cleveland State senior guard Kenny Carpenter. Having arrived in 2014, along with Terrelle Hales, he found himself in the shadows of what was then a strong rotation of upperclassmen.

As a consequence, he found himself in the shadows, playing limited minutes during his first year, with the noted exception of the last game of the season, a CIT match-up against NJIT. During that loss, fans saw a glimpse of what could be, with Carpenter racking up six points, three assists and grabbing a team-high seven boards.

But it seemed as if in the subsequent years, Carpenter continued to remain as a bit player for the Vikings. This was in spite of a sophomore year in which he got the starting nod eight times, averaged around 20 minutes per game and capped it off with a 24-point performance against UIC.

Head coach Gary Waters, by Carpenter’s junior year, began looking to other players in his backcourt, particularly Rob Edwards, Kash Thomas and Bobby Word. And Carpenter saw less playing time diminish and, in turn, his production.

You would have understood that the situation could have prompted Carpenter, like others during the Waters era, to seek life elsewhere. And you certainly wouldn’t have been surprised if he had decided to transfer upon the arrival of new head coach Dennis Felton.

But instead of working on finding a new opportunity, Carpenter decided to make a case to expound on his existing one. And as a result, he has become the primary scoring option for Cleveland State.

Even as the season started, most fans considered Carpenter as a bit of a wild card in terms of what he’d eventually contribute during the season. As it turns out, he’s leading the team in scoring with 14.4 points a game and in assists with three per game.

While his scoring and assists have gone up, so, too, has his shooting percentage and assist-to-turnover ratio. Carpenter currently ranks in the Top 10 in the Horizon League in both categories, with a field-goal percentage of 50.5 percent and notching a 1.8 assist-to-turnover ratio.

Most importantly, during the shaky start for the Vikings, in which inconsistently has been a running theme, Carpenter has been one of the few certainties that Felton can rely on. In fact, Felton has gone out of his way to gush about the work that Carpenter has put into his game, speaking frequently about how he’s in the gym at least three times a day.

The strong work ethic off the court and sure footing on it has clearly provided a spark to the entire team. And Felton has looked to Carpenter as someone who can provide the leadership that will help Cleveland State in both the immediate and distant future, specifically as it relates to the freshman class that includes backcourt sensation Tyree Appleby.

As the team continues to work out the kinks in its game, one of which still appears to be closing out games (with Kent State and Western Michigan being recent examples), Carpenter will remain the primary source of CSU’s offense. And don’t be surprised if he ends up making a case for an all-conference nod, too.

E-mail 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

There Is No Cleveland State-Youngstown State Rivalry. And There May Never Be.

It’s almost like that scene in the movie “Mean Girls” where Regina George snaps at Gretchen Weiners tell her to stop trying to make the word fetch a thing.

Ever since Youngstown State entered the Horizon League in 2001, much to the consternation of literally every fan in the conference, there was always the hope that somehow, some way, the Penguins, perennial underachievers in basketball, would finally right the ship.

Meanwhile, Cleveland State, after toiling in sub-mediocrity, did turn things around during the height of the Gary Waters era.

Had YSU gotten its act together during the tenure of Jerry Slocum, the battle between the two schools would have been rife for a natural rivalry. It made sense. Cleveland and Youngstown’s geographic proximity could have made it a cinch.

But it never happened. That heated feud between the two schools has failed to present itself.

Now, Slocum and Waters, who consistently butted heads when they roamed their respective sidelines, are gone. And at least one of their replacements seems to be making a concerted effort to goad the other into action.

And still, no luck in getting a rivalry going.

YSU tabbed Division II runner-up coach Jerrod Calhoun as Slocum’s successor, while CSU opted for ex-Western Kentucky and Georgia coach Dennis Felton. Calhoun built a success at Fairmont State, while Felton opted to spend time with the San Antonio Spurs after his departure from Georgia, then returned to the college ranks as part of the Tulsa coaching staff.

Despite their resumes, Calhoun has a sizable advantage in terms of his connections to Northeast Ohio, particularly as a former Cleveland State player under Rollie Massimino. Theoretically, that should have given Calhoun an edge in the CSU coaching search.

Cleveland State athletic director Mike Thomas, however, seemed to think otherwise and hired Felton.

With Calhoun chosen to lead YSU, it seems that he has been focusing a great deal on what should be Cleveland State’s backyard.

And Thursday, Calhoun hit closer to CSU’s home than ever.

This time, it was Waters himself, along with noted Viking alum D’Aundray Brown, who came to the Youngstown State campus and speak with Calhoun’s players.

And it is in this instance that we may all now lay to rest any silly notion that a rivalry between Cleveland State and YSU exists or, more to the point, will ever exist.

Give Calhoun credit, of course, for trying the jumpstart things a little. But it’s clear that Felton isn’t biting.

But more than that, rivalry discussion can be dismissed by the mere reaction, or rather lack thereof, from the remaining CSU fans. If Youngstown State were such bitter rivals, conventional wisdom would tell you that the Viking faithful would be incensed.

No such reaction really came. For some, in fact, the entire event was dismissed outright, as if it was much ado about nothing.

Perhaps that indifference really speaks to the long-festering root of Cleveland State’s issues with apathy and complacency. And this massive problem may be the primary reason why this potential rivalry never really gotten off the ground.

That’s not to say that YSU has been just as apathetic over the years, as the long drag of subpar basketball has certainly a contributing factor. What’s been CSU’s excuse? And while Calhoun appears to have recognized the hills he will have to climb to sell his program, what will Felton come up with to address the same issue?

While it’s early to determine whether Calhoun’s sprint out the gate or Felton’s marathon-like pace will produce results on the court, off the court, the feud that should be clamored for has not really materialized.

And at this point, the prospects remain dim that it ever will.

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

Image via CSUVikings.com

Gary Waters is Gone. Who Will Coach Cleveland State?

The Gary Waters Era at Cleveland State has ended not with a bang, but with a whimper.

An early-round exit in the Horizon League Tournament at the hands of Youngstown State sounds like a pretty anticlimactic ending for the all-time wins leader in school history. But that’s exactly how it came down, and on the heels of a second straight 20-loss season.

Waters virtually pulled the Vikings out of the hoops scrap heap in 2006, taking a team loaded with talent to the 2009 NCAA Tournament, a run that was capped by a first-round upset of Wake Forest.

But what goes up, apparently, must come down. In spite of multiple 20-win seasons, a spate of post-season appearances and a first-round NBA draft pick in Norris Cole, Waters was never able to repeat the success of that tourney year.

In the end, the near-misses, transfers and possibly the slide back into obscurity took its toll on Waters. And even though he has a ton of upperclassmen returning, which includes second team All-Horizon League selection Rob Edwards, Waters, who has two years left on his contract, will be parting ways with CSU.

Despite the latter-year shortcomings, history will be quite kind to Waters. The good he brought to the program, which includes all of his players graduating and one of the highest APRs in the NCAA, outweigh the bad.

But as the old saying goes, the show must go on.

It’s the future that is on the mind of athletic director Mike Thomas. He’ll be looking at a coach who will not only continue the work off the court players have done, but he will undoubtedly be seeking a vast improvement of the on-the-court product, both in the standings and in the stands.

With attendance at the Wolstein Center shrinking to virtually nothing and the partnership with Quicken Loans Arena netting very little value, Thomas’ pick for the next head coach will have his work cut out for him.

So, who will emerge as Cleveland State’s next head coach? Here are some possibilities:

Jerrod Calhoun, head coach, Fairmont State

Look up either “Rollie Massimino coaching tree” or “Bob Huggins coaching tree.” Realistically, either statement would be accurate for Calhoun. The 34-year old head coach at Division II Fairmont State has two advantages: Cleveland State roots and a reputation for building a winning program.

The Viking roots come from his start as a manager and ascending to the roster, even starting for Cleveland State during Massimino’s final season in 2002-03. Calhoun would eventually head to Cincinnati to join Huggins as a student assistant and to complete his Bachelor’s degree. The two would meet up again when Huggins took the West Virginia job and Calhoun joined the staff prior to heading down I-79 to coach FSU.

As for his coaching skills, the Falcons have won 20 games in every season of his tenure and includes this season’s tear, in which Fairmont State easily took the Mountain East Conference regular season crown and earned the Falcons a No. 1 ranking in Division II.

John Groce, head coach, Illinois

Groce has big advantages and disadvantages in the coaching race. The biggest advantage? He’s the coach Thomas hired at Illinois after a wildly successful stint at Ohio. With the Bobcats, Groce notched a Sweet Sixteen appearance that including beating Michigan, which probably made then-football coach Brady Hoke a bit uncomfortable.

The disadvantages? Well, first is that he’s not exactly available at the moment. The Illini still have Groce under contract as of now, so he still has a job to do. Also, even if he gets bought out by Illinois, he may be a bit rich for CSU’s blood. If either scenario is a deterrent, consider one of his assistants, Dustin Ford, as a viable alternative.

Billy Donlon, assistant coach, Michigan

When last we saw Donlon, he was giving Green Bay a run for its money in finals of the 2016 edition of Motor City Madness while head coach at Wright State. Most fans around the Horizon League fully expected the Raiders to accept a bid to the CIT or CBI afterwards, but when it didn’t happen, something was up.

And that something turned out to be athletic director Bob Grant showing Donlon the door, replacing him with South Dakota State’s Scott Nagy for a rather sizable sum of money.

Donlon, however, landed on his feet, and joined John Beilein on the Michigan coaching staff, joining fellow ex-Horizon League assistants Saddi Washington (Oakland) and Jeff Meyer (Butler). Look for Donlon to express an interest in the Cleveland State gig if, for no other reason, the need to exact some revenge.

Patrick Tatham, assistant coach, Maine Red Claws

The inclusion of former Cleveland State player Tatham to this list may be a bit out of left field, but it would come as a surprise to many fans that the Brampton, Ontario native has quite a bit of coaching experience under his belt, including his current stint with the Red Claws in the NBA D-League.

In fact, Tatham is still part of the coaching staff at Ryerson University in Toronto (he’s completing a season in the D-League while taking a leave of absence). The Maine coaching offer came on the heels of Tatham serving as the Rams interim head coach while head coach Rob Rana led Canada’s under-18 international squad.

The interim season proved to be a great one, with Ryerson finishing 17-2 and topping the Ontario University Athletics conference. A third-place finish in the U Sports (then called the CIS) tournament also netted Tatham national coach of the year honors.

Undoubtedly, there will be additional names that pop up during the search process, but one thing is likely clear to Thomas and Cleveland State: The program needs a boost, and the next head coach must bring it in a big way.

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

Image via CSUVikings.com

Cleveland State Must Learn to Close to Survive in the Horizon League Tournament

In the iconic movie Glengarry Glen Ross, Alec Baldwin’s character, Blake, snarls at salesman Shelley Levene (played in the movie by Jack Lemmon) with the famous line, “coffee’s for closers.”

This season, had Blake gotten in front of this season’s Cleveland State team, he’d probably be doing to exact same thing.

Nobody thought that the 2016-17 campaign would be anywhere near as disastrous as the 2015-16 season had been. And yet, at least on paper, here we stand. Heading into the Horizon League Tournament (aka Motor City Madness), the Vikings have only been able to muster the same amount of wins this year as they did last year.

The problem this season hasn’t been being competitive, as evidenced by the string of double-digit defeats last year. In fact, Cleveland State hung with all of its Horizon League foes, the lone exception being the 78-57 smackdown at the hands of Valparaiso.

What did become the running theme this season was the inability to cinch the close games. The Vikings were 2-8 in contests that were decided by five points or less, and that doesn’t include a 74-68 double-overtime loss to Wright State.

So instead of a finish in the middle of the conference pack (Full disclosure: I had originally expected CSU to finish fifth), Cleveland State ended up with a dismal 5-13 record in the Horizon League, which was only good enough for eighth.

Quite simply, the Vikings are better than they were; they just aren’t good enough.

The close losses have obviously taxed what’s left of the Cleveland State fan base, who showed up to home games in smaller numbers than at any point in time in the history of the Wolstein Center. And whatever student outreach had been done prior to the start of the season fell on deaf ears, as evidenced by the nearly empty student section during the home finale against Youngstown State.

And that has to weigh heavily on the mind of head coach Gary Waters, whose frustration has been more and more visible as the season drug on. Rumors of his future have been swirling around ever since the hire of new athletic director Mike Thomas.

Of course, Waters remains at the helm for now and the foreseeable future, and his focus is on how to get his squad to close out games. That’s because as improbable as it may sound, there is, indeed, a path to victory for the Vikings.

Their opening round opponent, YSU, is a team that CSU beat convincingly last Saturday, 69-55. Moreover, the top seed in the tournament is Oakland, and will be looming over the winner of the Vikings-Penguins contest.

As foreboding as the top seed would be to face, Cleveland State can take heart in the fact that it has already beaten the Golden Grizzlies ones this season and came close to pulling off another win at the Wolstein Center, if not for a missed three-pointer by Bobby Word.

Further down the line, the Raiders nearly fell victim to the Vikings in the aforementioned double overtime game, and Northern Kentucky eked out a two-point win on CSU. Either team could be waiting for Cleveland State if it should get past Oakland.

And even Valparaiso, which bested CSU twice, has all of a sudden become more vulnerable, as Alec Peters has been declared done for the season with a stress fracture.

None of this matters, however, unless the Vikings can do what they haven’t been able to do very well all season: close.

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

Image via CSUVikings.com

A Modest Proposal for Gary Waters: Ditch the Radio Show; Start Up a Podcast

To be clear, radio, in spite of many calls to the otherwise, is not a dead medium. Honestly, if you walk into your car, there’s a high likelihood you’re not hooking up your phone all the time to listen to podcasts, Pandora or whatever you happen to like.

However, if you happen to be Cleveland State and you’re drowning in a sea of competition that is primarily dominated by the Browns, it may be time to re-think a few things when it comes to radio.

Now, of course it’s still good to have basketball games live on the radio, given there have been a few occasions this season in which fans weren’t able to watch the games on ESPN3 (read: games on Time Warner Sportsnet). Of course, there have also been times when the live audio stream of broadcasts weren’t available via the Web site of CSU’s flagship station, WHK AM-1420, or any streaming radio apps.

Regardless, no Division I team should ever really be without a radio contract, so it does, even in 2016, make sense to be sure one is secured. However, there is one particular event that, at least for the purposes of Cleveland State, gone the way of the dinosaurs.

I’m talking, of course, about the Gary Waters Radio Show.

Since his arrival at CSU, Waters has taken part in a weekly radio show, which started first on WKNR (back before the station sold its soul to the Browns), and is currently on WHK. And Waters, with host (and CSU play-by-play announcer Al Pawlowski) have split their time in recent years with live spots both at the station and at venues such as Burgers to Beer and Hofbrauhaus.

While these broadcasts have become a staple of CSU’s ability to try to get the word out about the basketball team, the live format is more likely than not falling short of expectations from an audience standpoint. And you have to think that any advertising dollars generated are merely canceling out the broadcast costs and the fees paid to the show’s producer, Learfield Sports.

Also, if you missed out on any of the broadcasts or wanted to hear a replay, you’re just flat out of luck, since The Answer doesn’t appear to have archives of any of these shows. Plus, if you have listened to the show in recent years, the live call-in element has gone away a bit, with sending questions in via Twitter becoming more prevalent.

So, taking all of this into consideration, perhaps it’s time for Waters, CSU and Learfield to come up with a new strategy as it relates to the coach’s show. And being the one person who’s never been shy about putting my two cents in on anything (I mean, why else would you still be reading my columns?), I propose a viable alternative:

Ditch the radio spot and move the coach’s show to a podcast format.

If Cleveland State is truly serious about expanding its fanbase, a Waters podcast is far more attractive than getting everything together for a radio broadcast. From an operational standpoint, it’s far easier to hook up a high-quality microphone to a laptop than it is to schedule airtime at a radio station or worse, have said station lug its equipment to a venue for a live spot.

Even better, the podcast could be recorded anywhere. This would be especially useful if, for example, Waters was out of town with the team playing games on the road.

Obviously, you’d still want to keep Pawlowski as the host of the show. And advertisers could still be on board on this format. The broadcasting costs haven’t been a deterrent for CSU, so it would stand to reason that creating a podcast wouldn’t create some financial barrier, either.

Most importantly, the podcast provides what the show broadcast clearly doesn’t right now: Archived content. So, for fans who either aren’t available to catch the show live or aren’t in a position to listen won’t miss out.

And yes, I recognize that nothing I have just written has anything to do with the fact that the Vikings let Northern Kentucky’s Drew McDonald go off on them on Saturday, nor does it include them squandering an nine-point lead and eventually losing to UIC. But this coach’s show business has been something I’ve been thinking about for a while, and I can’t be the only one.

Make the change. You won’t regret it.

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

Image via CSUVikings.com

Cleveland State Returns Home (Sort Of) Battered and Beaten

It has really gotten to the point at Cleveland State where it’s become extremely difficult to figure out if there’s any progress happening. The initial returns did indicate that maybe, just maybe, the Vikings would avoid the fate that felled them last season. And let’s face it, nobody wants to see a repeat of last year.

But even with leaving the 101-70 drubbing at the hands of Kentucky out of the equation (since the Wildcats are putting that kind of hurting on all opponents this season), the measure of progress is looking harder to find.

And when Cleveland State continues to make the same mistakes over and over again (Read: long scoring droughts, giving up double-digit leads, etc.), it makes anybody wonder if the cycle of misery experienced from 2015-16 isn’t coming back to rear its ugly head.

Making matters worse is what appears to be a decided lack of depth, in spite of a rather robust rotation that coach Gary Waters has utilized. This has become a particularly glaring issue at point guard, where Gavin Peppers is still out of the rotation with a bone bruise on his foot.

Freshman Kash Thomas, as promising as he has been early on, has also run into some issues that his inexperience and a dearth of help in the rotation have brought to light. Kentucky and, most recent, Arkansas State have been able to target him on defense and, as a consequence, make him a non-factor on offense, as evidenced by limiting him to zero points in the first halves of both contests.

Now, the injury bug has come to claim Rob Edwards, CSU’s leading scorer, even as Demonte Flannigan and Terrelle Hales have come back from early health issues. A hand injury resulted in him sitting out of practice prior to the road trip against the Red Wolves. And limited to 22 minutes in the 78-51 rout at the hands of Arkansas State, Edwards was held scoreless.

In fact, with the Vikings sporting a 1-5 record, it seems as if the only highlight of the upcoming home game at Quicken Loans Arena against Bethune-Cookman is the return of a Cleveland State great. The Wildcats are coached by Gravelle Craig, who was part of the 1992-93 Vikings squad that tore through the Mid-Continent Conference (now called the Summit League) en route to a regular-season title.

For his part, Craig garner first-team all-conference honors (to go along with his second-team honors the previous year) and honorable mention All-American recognition from Basketball Weekly that season. His 5.5 assists per game remains the all-time record for dishes in CSU history.

The emotional boost that will be part of this Ohio homecoming for Craig, along with several members of the Bethune-Cookman roster and staff (including senior writer Dan Ryan) won’t be the only thing the Vikings will have to contend with. Cleveland State will also have to find an answer for the Wildcats’ junior guard, Brandon Tabb.

The 6-5 juco transfer has been on a tear, and was recently named MEAC Co-Player of the Week. Tabb’s 22.1 points per game also leads the conference and ranks him 22nd in the entire country, plus he is second nationally in three-pointers made.

With as many issues as the Vikings have had defending beyond the arc, even in their sole win against Canisius, having Tabb go off on them won’t help matters. And with the Bethune-Cookman faithful seemingly more excited about the game at the Q than Cleveland State fans are, the last thing Waters needs is reinforcement of his assertion that games at the home of the Cavaliers are little more than neutral-site contests to him.

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

Image via CSUVikings.com

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

Will Cleveland State’s Student Outreach Pay Off?

You had a feeling that at some point in time, somebody from Cleveland State was going to stand up and take notice of the fact that nobody was going to men’s basketball games.

It’s also not hard to imagine that the partnership with the Cavaliers and Quicken Loans Arena isn’t going as planned, as the number of Viking games at the Q went down from five to two. With single-game tickets now on sale, and with all Horizon League games at the Wolstein Center, it appears that the folks at Quicken Loans Arena have opted to minimize the financial damage of low attendance.

Lack of support from the community isn’t exactly a new problem for Cleveland State. Multiple attempts over the years to market the team through television and radio advertising has netted few returns as it relates to overall attendance. CSU clearly hoped that the partnership with the Cavs would alleviate that somewhat, to no avail.

Sad to say, but Cleveland State fell victim to a multitude of circumstances that can only partially be blamed on last season’s abysmal 9-23 record. The Vikings, both men and women, also had to contend with, among other things, the Cavs and the now Cleveland Monsters, whose own success in the form of winning the AHL’s Calder Cup trophy preceded the monumental Cavaliers victory.

And while the Indians, with their outstanding run to the World Series, may not have directly affected CSU’s prospects, the fact that money that potentially could have been thrown the Vikings’ way likely went that way.

So given that the already uphill climb to attract the community to Cleveland State sporting events has been made even steeper, the school had to go in another direction. And as it turns out, it looks as if it’s putting more focus on the one steady source of revenue: Students.

Now, this effort to reach out to students, whose fees currently account for nearly 89 percent of the entire Athletics budget, has been in fits and starts for more than two decades. It started with Rollie Massimino reaching out, then later, the creation of the Beserkers fan section and its subsequent predecessor, Viking Village.

In that vein, Athletics, through its staff and its athletes, have rebooted those efforts. Basketball players have been visible at a variety of student events, from Homecoming Week to passing out Halloween candy during the men’s lacrosse team’s debut exhibition match against Bellarmine. Coach Gary Waters was spotted in the front row of a volleyball game.

Most importantly, though, has been the string of meetings between Waters, the Athletics staff and members of the student body. Though this approach isn’t new (Massimino gathered student leaders when he first arrive in 1996), it appears that Cleveland State is making a more concerted effort to get students more involved, particularly in men’s basketball.

And it couldn’t come at a more crucial time. With entertainment dollars being stretched all over the place as it stands, CSU would do well to plan for the future. After all, as any big university will tell you, there’s a good chance that students who become fans will eventually spend more money after they graduate (read: season tickets).

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

Image courtesy of Cleveland State Athletics